I lost my DVD of Man On Fire, well the disc anyway. I still had the box, and every time I thought about watching it, I opened the case hoping St Christopher had returned it without me knowing. This never happened. So, fast-forward 6 years après DVD loss to Friday night; I saw the movie listed on iTunes when browsing movies and bought it without hesitation. Is this Tony Scott’s most accomplished work? I’m going on record to say it is.
Man On Fire encapsulates everything you’d expect from a Tony Scott movie; eye-busting action, vicious pacing, rich, saturated colours and, more recently, a penchant for showing us the most advanced telecommunication devices on the market (or not, as in the case of Deja Vu). Scott constructs a beautifully-rich visual tapestry that is tied together with some audacious camerawork and phenomenal acting from the two leads, Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning.
Washington plays Creasy, a broken, alcoholic, ex-assassin who takes a job protecting Pita (Fanning), the daughter of a rich, Mexico City family. Initially, after his employment, Creasy considers Pita just a ‘job’; he’s cold, stern and gives nothing away to her constant interrogations. However, the more time he spends with her, the more she begins to heal his heart and turn his life around. After a shocking turn of events, Creasy calls upon his past and embarks on a journey of vengeance.
First of all, Dakota Fanning was a revelation in this movie. There are numerous occasions during which she leads the scene, and for an 11 year old to achieve this is nothing short of phenomenal. Her precocious talent is matched only by Scott’s talents as a director. The bond Scott managed to develop between Fanning and Washington becomes the backbone of this movie, and regardless of some great performances from Christopher Walken and the lesser cast members, Creasy and Pita’s relationships steals the show; there are tonal elements from buddy cop movies during the first act which I thought really established the foundations of their character interactions. Washington has a vulnerability to his character, which enables us to feel compassion even when he undertakes his ‘revenge is best served cold’ mission. Also, I have to mention his character arc, which is a perfect example to aspiring screenwriters of how to write a convincing and engaging protagonist.
The stylistic elements of this movie complement how brilliant the acting is. Tracking shots, dolly shots during conversations and daring crane shots give the film a pace that is unrelenting and nail-biting until the end. The opulence of the family is shown through jet black cars, saturated gold furniture and the colour palette becomes a sickly reminder of the contemporary subject matter in the film. It’s cut together with glitchy match cuts, flash to whites and a manipulation of exposure that is almost seizure inducing, working in synergy with the pace of the camera. Scott has even played with the style of the Spanish language subtitles; rather than being static, they scale in and out over different parts of the screen, which enhances the pace and confusion of some of the scenes. As a post-production geek, I love how they have done more with less here; it’s all colour correction techniques and camera movement, and everything seems in front of the camera rather than composited in afterwards, which I admire greatly.
If I was going to nitpick at this movie, I would say the payoff at the end might not be satisfying and may put off some people, but it is brave and I personally don’t have a problem with it. While still being a balls-out action movie at its heart, we need more stories like Man on Fire to counter the unbridled amount of conservative shit Hollywood produces on a yearly basis. /rant.
The end of Tony Scott’s career may not being as glittering as the early days; Top Gun and True Romance have gone down in history as successes, while Domino and Unstoppable not so much. However, it is Man of Fire, a movie nestled almost in the middle of his directorial filmography, that gets all the plaudits, and rightly so. It’s a perfect mix of action, character, vision, visuals and heart; many movies could learn a thing or two from Man on Fire.