Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Man On Fire

MPAA Rating: R for language and strong violence

Reviewed by: Brett Willis
STAFF WRITER

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Action Adventure, Thriller
Length:
2 hr. 26 min.
Year of Release:
2004
USA Release:
______
Copyright, 20th Century Fox
Copyright, 20th Century Fox
Copyright, 20th Century Fox
Copyright, 20th Century Fox
Copyright, 20th Century Fox
Featuring: Denzel Washington
Dakota Fanning
Christopher Walken
Marc Anthony
Radha Mitchell
Mickey Rourke
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.”

Review

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.”

Copyright, 20th Century Fox

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.

Miscellaneous notes

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

Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—Most of the film was pretty hard to watch. Violence and profanity were present, but nothing that we haven’t seen before. I took my 15 year old son and my 16 year old daughter; they seemed to handle it okay. Some Christians will not enjoy this film because it is very rough, but it does have a positive message. Washington, once again, gives a great performance. Go and see it if you can handle the content.
My Ratings: [Average/3½]
—Jack Robert, age 39
Positive—First of all, this is a movie for adults, not children or young youth. It has some gruesome content. Beside that, I really enjoyed the movie. I loved the ending, though sad. There was some Bible reference in the movie. The most powerful part is the end where it shows him giving up his life for the girls because he loved and cared for her… which is what Jesus did for us. Interesting movie.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Kriss, age 23
Positive—This is a good movie… Denzel Washington is excellent… Dakota Fanning is an amazing little star… both are very very good in this movie. There is violence and foul language… I’m sure most of us have heard it all… The life and experiences of an assassin are not pretty… you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out… it is NOT for small children. The ending is heart wrenching… but if you know the Bible… someone else did the very same thing…
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4½]
—Tina Matejek, age 46
Neutral
Neutral—I would recommend this movie if you don’t take children. The restricted rating is mainly secondary to violence, although there is one scene suggestive of sexual relations; albeit between a married couple! If you like Denzel Washington he is at his finest here. Of course, he does a good job even when the plot stinks. By my parents standards this film would be unworthy of 2 hrs of time because movies they like are out of the 50s, however, if you suspend you disbelief and guard against desensitization of Denzel’s violent attempt at revenge then you should enjoy this show. Of course, the Word (scripture is actually quoted but Lucifer can do that) reminds us that the actions of our revenge never are the will of God. I compare that with the Power Rangers on an adult level; fight the whole way through the movie then admonish that fighting is not the secret, God will even things out in the end. Anyway, this is one of the few flicks out now, that I’ve seen, that I would say is somewhat worthy of your time if you like Denzel!
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Bob C., age 40
Negative
Negative—This movie is well filmed and well acted, however, apart from that the moral message is disturbing. This is a clear example of how “bad” means are used to achieve a “good” result. Unfortunately, this is morally unacceptable for those of the Christian faith. The final unselfish act of John Creasy does not justify his torturous extortion of information and eventual killing of those people connected with the kidnappers.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/4]
—John, age 26
Comments from young people
Neutral—I thought the movie was good. A woman caresses her husband’s face, she removes her robe (we see her in bra and panties), she climbs on his lap, they kiss and, although we see nothing, it is suggested that they have sex. A man puts a gun to a man’s head and forces him to drive to a secluded spot; he shoots the man in the neck or shoulder (we see blood on the man, but not the shot), then tapes his hands to the steering wheel, and begins cutting off his fingers and then burning the stumps with a cigarette lighter; the tortured man screams and pleads and blood sprays on the car windshield, while the torturer cuts a piece off the man’s ear (we see blood and a notch on the ear).

A man who’s sitting in a car is shot at close range in the head, and the car is shoved over a cliff (we see the car crash and explode). A man with a gun goes into an apartment where there are children and a pregnant woman, a man shoots him from behind, and the wounded man chases the assailant. A man crashes his car into a truck; he’s dragged out of the car (with blood on his face); he’s tied up, and his fingers are shot off (we see the fingers separate from the hand and a very bloody stump). A man is shot repeatedly (we see bullet holes in his forehead and chest), and he falls back into a swimming pool.

A man is tied to the back of a car, we hear that he has an explosive device in his rectum, and we see and hear an explosion later suggesting that he has been blown up. A man shoots a man, asks him questions, shoots him again, asks him more questions then shoots him in the chest killing him.

A man shoots a gun in the air, he is shot in the shoulder by another man, several men shoot back and forth across a street, and a few are hit and fall to the ground (one is shown with a bullet hole in his head); men in a car try to drive away, the car crashes, the men come out of the car and are shot—one man shoots another man in the chest, and another man is shot in the chest and falls to the ground (we see a few bloody patches on his shirt).
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/3½]
—Ben, age 14
Positive—I thought that this movie had a wonderful point of view. One part, Denzel cut a man’s fingers off and I just skipped it. That was really tough to watch. I thought that Dakota Fanning did an excellent, awesome job. She did very well on the part where she got kidnapped. Good job! I really got into it. I would definitely not recommend it for 1-10 years old. It is way too violent. Take it from me, a teenager.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
—Bethany S., age 13
Neutral—This movie takes the first half to build up character and the second half for Mr. Kreasy to kill a lot of people in laughably immature ways, such as cutting off fingers to the tune of “Hey Mickey” and shoving a bomb up someone’s behind. It is all about stylish and gritty violence. I think a lot of Christians will like this movie because of the religious symbolism. However, none of the symbolism serves any purpose. Having someone shoot their head off in front of the Virgin Mary and saying “I’ll pray for you” really has no spiritual message to it. Underneath the overdone style and religious “message,” this movie is fairly hollow.
My Ratings: [Average/2]
—Adam, age 16
Positive—While well deserving of its R rating, this film is not the disturbingly gross and overly graphic violent film that allot of people are making it out to be. It is more of the techniques that make people squirm rather then what is being shown on the screen. Also, contrary to what I was told, Man On Fire is NOT an action movie; rather, it is a very involving drama which succeeds in making you feel for the characters.

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie and would recommend it to anyone who can stand the language, violence and the surreal camera techniques.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/4½]
—Alex Vaughan, age 17
Movie Critics
…Christian worldview …marred by strong revenge theme, some excessive violence…
—Dr. Ted Baehr, Movieguide
…The movie has the skill and the texture to approach greatness, but Scott and Helgeland are content with putting a high gloss on formula action…
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
…about an ugly subject—child abduction—and it incites in the audience a hideous thirst for blood…
—Eric Harrison, Houston Chronicle
…excessive gore, torture and carnage and much bad language…
—Blaine Butcher, Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…at least 18 “f” words… For those prone to motion sickness, the spin around camera shots as well as jumpy camera work may be a bit much for them.
—ScreenIt!
…Savage revenge fantasy… has to go down as one of the longest, dumbest and most savage revenge fantasies extant…
—Glenn Lovell, San Jose Mercury News
Denzel Washington dominates an otherwise routine thriller expanded to protracted length by self-indulgent filmmaking…
—Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter
…the violence, however, is shocking, and not to be discounted…
—Annabelle Robertson, Crosswalk