Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Director:||Tony Scott—“Spy Game,” “Enemy of the State,” “Crimson Tide,” “Days of Thunder,” “Beverly Hills Cop 2,” “Top Gun”|
|Producer:||Lucas Foster, Arnon Milchan, Tony Scott|
|Distributor:||Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation|
Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Oscar® winner Denzel Washington stars as a government operative/soldier of fortune, who has pretty much given up on life. In Mexico City, he reluctantly agrees to take a job to protect a child (Dakota Fanning) whose parents are threatened by a wave of kidnappings. He eventually becomes close to the child and their relationship reawakens and rekindles his spirit. When she is abducted, his fiery rage is unleashed on those he feels responsible, and he stops at nothing to save her.”
This is a surprisingly good-of-kind film, for viewers who can tolerate the extreme violence. It centers on a flawed but conscientious hero, and ends with a strong redemptive twist which I can’t give away.
Kidnappings for ransom have reached epidemic levels in Mexico City. The rich have purchased kidnapping insurance, which makes them even more lucrative targets. Therefore, it has also become normal for upper-class parents to hire personal bodyguards for their children. Industrialist Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) and his blond “American” wife Lisa (Radha Mitchell) are temporarily without a bodyguard for their young daughter Pita (Dakota Fanning), and are keeping her out of school until they can find a suitable replacement.
Former CIA “Black Bag” operative John Creasy (Denzel Washington) drops in to see his old partner Rayburn (Christopher Walken) in El Paso. One thing leads to another, and Rayburn refers Creasy to the Ramos family. Hey, it’s a job. Not exactly his field of expertise, but a reasonable fit. The backstory on Rayburn and Creasy is leaked to the audience little by little. They’re former counterinsurgents (read: “assassins”) carrying a heavy weight on their consciences. “Do you think God will forgive us for what we’ve done?” “No.”
Creasy drinks heavily, but knows the Bible well. He waffles between suicidal depression and trying to rekindle his dormant faith in God. On duty with the Ramos family, he also waffles between being “all business” with Pita and letting himself become her friend. Eventually, her sunshiny influence rekindles something in Creasy. The slow-blossoming relationship between the two is very engaging. Problem is, we can’t just relax and enjoy that interplay because, as anyone who’s seen the advance publicity for this film knows, Pita will eventually be kidnapped and Creasy will go on a crusade of retribution and vengeance. (Rayburn refuses to be directly involved in any more killing, but he does use his contacts to get Creasy the weaponry he needs.)
Starting with the “little guys” at the bottom, Creasy tortures members of the kidnapping ring for information on their superiors, then kills them. We’re talking about cutting fingers off, one by one. Sticking a remote-controlled explosive charge up the rectum. Things like that. Creasy also blows up a Rave club that apparently belongs to one of the kidnappers, after first firing warning shots to get all the dancers to evacuate.
This isn’t stuff that most Bible-believing Christians will enjoy watching, but it’s effective for Creasy’s purpose. And since many of the police are corrupt, belong to a secret brotherhood called “La Hermandad,” and are themselves a part of the kidnapping trade, the only way Creasy can do what he needs to do is outside the law.
In fact, while Creasy was recovering from the wounds he sustained during the kidnapping, an honest cop had him secretly moved to a Veterinary hospital where the corrupt cops couldn’t find him and kill him.
During the retribution crusade, there’s a lot of shaky hand-held camera work, spin-angles and fast-motioning, some of which appears to have been shot on digital video. So some people may be sickened by the filming techniques as well as by the content.
Performances: Washington is very good, as always. Ditto for Dakota Fanning. Walken is his usual inscrutable self. Rachel Ticotin is okay as an investigative reporter who supplies Creasy with information. Mickey Rourke is wasted in a bit role as the Ramos family’s attorney. There were a few stressful scenes in which the characters seemed to show less than the expected degree of emotion. But in most cases, the emotion is there, and it’s gut-wrenching.
Violence: Extreme and often bloody. I’ve detailed some of the content here, but there’s much more. If you’re not used to this genre, and don’t want to get used to it, stay away.
Language: There were about 20 uses of f* plus a few subtitled uses of the Spanish equivalent. Miscellaneous other profanities and vulgarities. Since this is a Roman Catholic culture, there was little cursing.
Sex/Nudity: There’s a scene is which Mrs. Ramos strips to her underwear and climbs onto her husband’s lap, just before the camera cuts away. There’s a verbal reference to the honest cop and Ticotin’s character sleeping together, which includes f* used in a literal sense. In kidnapping ransom scenes, men are required to take off their shirts and wave them as a signal. In the scene in which Creasy interrogates the President of “La Hermandad,” his overweight victim is stripped to his boxers and has an explosive charge planted inside his body.
Other content issues: There’s a lot of drinking, some smoking, one suicide and another attempted suicide. And characters who aren’t what they appear to be.
Conclusion: There’s a positive message here, but it’s buried deeply inside a very rough storyline. Some viewers will be incited to hatred, disrespect of law enforcement, and other negative attitudes. This film is appropriate only for mature adults who will not be affected in that way.
The one-man-army theme of this film is similar to that of the “Rambo: First Blood” films. Creasy uses a variety of sophisticated weaponry including an RPG rocket launcher. The clear-cut good-guy/bad-guy setup will have many in the audience thirsting for blood. And Rayburn (whose character roughly corresponds to Col. Trautman) kicks out some really cheesy one-liners about Creasy’s invincibility. Also, the only other story I know of in which the “hero” uses the serial torture technique is the 1975 novel Testament by David Morrell, who also wrote First Blood. (Testament has never been filmed.)
It’s widely rumored that “A.J. Quinnell,” the pseudonymous author of the original novel Man on Fire, was a secret operative in real life.
Tony Scott (brother of Ridley Scott) was slated to direct the original 1987 version of “Man on Fire” starring Scott Glenn; but he ended up directing “Top Gun” instead. The difference in domestic gross between the two films was about 150 to 1. Good career choice. Now Scott has come full circle, and directed this remake.
For anyone who wonders about the number of new-looking VW “Old Bugs” seen on the streets of Mexico City: the “Old Bug” was still manufactured in Mexico until 2003.
Violence: Extreme / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate