Time: 146 Minutes
Age Rating: R16 – Violence & content that may disturb
Denzel Washington as John W. Creasy
Dakota Fanning as Guadalupe “Lupita” (Pita) Ramos
Radha Mitchell as Lisa Ramos
Christopher Walken as Paul Rayburn
Marc Anthony as Samuel Ramos
Giancarlo Giannini as Miguel Manzano
Mickey Rourke as Jordan Kalfus
Director: Tony Scott
John, an ex-CIA officer, is entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding an entrepreneur’s daughter. When the girl gets kidnapped, John vows to seek revenge.
Man on Fire is one of Tony Scott’s best movies, a brutal action thriller that is strengthened by the great performances (especially from Denzel Washington), and some stellar direction.
Man on Fire is initially a familiar revenge thriller, and while it certainly fits that genre, at its core it is a character study. This simple story is held together by the complexity of Denzel Washington’s lead character. The trope of having a character with a dark past forming a bond with a character before they are hurt, kidnapped or killed prompting them to get revenge isn’t always the most effective, usually because it doesn’t feel that genuine. Man on Fire however dedicates its first 45 minutes on Washington’s character spending time protecting Dakota Fanning and becoming friends with her. The movie really takes time to develop their relationship and building up these characters and the story instead of just rushing to the part where the protagonist goes loose. Indeed, the rest of the movie is Washington going on a rampage, but the scenes are given so much weight and meaning because of the time spend beforehand. Despite Scott’s often fast pace, it is slower compared to some of his other movies. This slow development really contributes to the emotion and suspense of the second and third acts. Make no mistake, for as brutal as the movie gets, it is an emotionally filled journey.
Denzel Washington gives another phenomenal performance in the lead role. He has the charisma that only he could pull off, and also does well at conveying his character’s backslide into killing again, and is convincingly a force of nature. Dakota Fanning is also really good as the girl that Washington’s character has to protect, and those two share a bond together. While you’ve seen this type of relationship before when it comes to revenge movies with similar plots, it is truly one of the best examples of it. Without this strong central relationship, the movie wouldn’t have been nearly as effective. Christopher Walken is good as Washington’s closest friend, and other actors like Giancarlo Giannini and Mickey Rourke also work well in their parts.
As expected from Tony Scott, his kinetic style is incredibly in your face and it does a lot to serve the overall narrative. With the stylish camerawork, cinematography and editing, it gives this disorientating feeling which helps put us in the protagonist’s perspective. The action is engaging, and the violence is brutal, striking and yet grounded.
Man on Fire is a familiar but well executed revenge thriller, stylishly directed, gripping, and led by a reliably great Denzel Washington. One of Tony Scott’s best films.