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I watched this after seeing the 2004 remake and was quite surprised by how good this one is. Scott Glenn gives a suitably haunted and melancholic performance, despite his dorky 80s wardrobe; no man can look cool with puffy shoulder pads like Joan Crawford and his coat-sleeves pushed up past his elbows. Jade Malle has just the right combination of loneliness and intelligence as the kidnap victim. Joe Pesci has a great weapons prep scene (opening a crate of handguns he says gleefully, "I ran into some old friends of ours. Do you recognize any of these guys?") but he isn't really given much to do. The violence is quick and dirty. The director, Elie Chouraqui, directs in a style that recalls Brian DePalma when he was at his peak.The ending is open to interpretation. Perfect. All in all I would say this version of Man on Fire is definitely worth seeing.
When most people today hear the title "Man on Fire", they probably
think right away of the 2004 film starring Denzel Washington and Dakota
Fanning. Unbeknownst to many of them is that film is in fact a remake
of a gritty, disturbing, and above all, unusual European film of the
same title. The 1987 version of "Man on Fire" is probably a film that I
would have to consider schlock. From the looks of it, it's budget was
fairly decent for it has good acting, good effects, and good sound
design. But the reason why it falls under the category of schlock is
because of its very unusual and sometimes, inferior styles. This is a
film that will meet viewers halfway. Some people will enjoy it just for
what it is. And the other half will simply despise it.
For me, "Man on Fire" was in deed unusual and strange and definitely not the most creative film ever made. But while that is true in my personal opinion, there is another factor that I cannot deny. And that is the factor that while the film was a bit shoddy, it was highly entertaining and in a way, a bit more complex and more compelling than the 2004 remake. It has some gorgeous scenery, absolutely wonderful acting, a fairly decent screenplay, and other things that I simply find attractive in a motion picture. Scott Glenn was absolutely flawless as Creasy and he pulled off the character as being mysterious, cold, and unusual. He wasn't quite the tough guy as Denzel Washington was in the remake. To be honest, I wanted him to be tougher, but it kind of worked out. Jade Malle, an actress who unfortunately did not do much acting after this debut, was fairly good as Sam. Yes, she wasn't the best child actress in the world and not a patch when compared to Dakota Fanning, but I found her to a fairly decent addition to the cast. And Joe Pesci, while definitely one of the unusual aspects of the film, pulled off a fairly good performance as well.
Action sequences in "Man on Fire" were fairly decent. Many of them were flawed, but they were, for the most part, thrilling. There was one part that I personally felt did not work out. When one of the bad guys gets shot in the stomach, he just kind of stands there until he finally starts to slowly fall over. The camera doesn't change angles or anything like that to create a more distressful feeling. But other than that, the gunfights and action sequences were intense, gritty, and bloody. And the gore here is used at a controlled level. And what I will always remember about this film was that unlike the 2004 version, there was a scene here that just made me jump.
So what doesn't work in "Man on Fire"? Basically, it's just a few aspects of the film's style. Some parts of the film I think could have used a few more takes. The scene where Creasy finds the first of the kidnappers probably could have been done differently, for I found it to be too disturbing and uncomfortable. And like I said, there are some wonderfully talented actors and actresses in this film. Jade Malle's parents were portrayed wonderfully, unfortunately, their characters are what I would call stick figures. Just in the background, so that you know they're there. The ending for the film is a mysterious one of the highest order. For a while, it doesn't make any sense. And I think the explanation of the ending just depends on an individual viewer's point of view. Maybe that's what the director intended.
The original 1987 "Man on Fire" is not the kind of film for everybody. Some aspects of it are inferior to the 2004 remake, but other aspects exceed well above it. Personally, I might prefer this version for its colorful acting, its not-so-gangster style, Scott Glenn's wonderful performance, the great music score, and just the great thrills of a 1980s European thriller.
Although several films are entitled "Man On Fire", this one (1987) has Scott Glenn playing the lead. This precision and talented actor has accomplished many a role in which he so personifies and brought to life the living essence of his character, that few can deny his superior ability. So much so, when we view any performance he exhibits, he is truly remarkable. Much the same can be said for the gifts of Europe's Elie Chouraqui. He proves to be an adroit, and successful director. With the combined talents of both and then add Joe Pesci as David, Jonathan Pryce as Michael, Paul Shenar as Ettore and especially Danny Aiello as Conti, the film becomes a unique stage upon which abundance talent is configured to provide an explosive outcome. Interweaving, both classic literature and stirring quotes between Hero and his young charge for whom he has been assigned as bodyguard, it's hard not to picture a restrained tiger on a leash which had been wounded and left for dead. As a result, it convinces this audience member that at anytime during the dark, moody and poignant tale, the screen will detonate and shake the foundations of the theater. Instead, Chouraqui restrains Scott and his pent-up volcanic anger until the climatic finale which is both dynamic and emotionally touching. All in all, a great vehicle for Glenn and his acclaimed resume. ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Man on Fire may be one of the most underrated thrillers of the 80's. While
bit slow and uncomfortable (which it clearly meant to be) to watch, it is
also an excellent trip into a desperate man's rampaging mind. Glenn truly
the epitome of the title of the film, and is far less methodical than the
2004 updated version (this aspect is neither better nor worse, but
different). Actually if you took attributes of both films and combined
you would have a perfect version. The 2004 version features some stylish
camera work and editing, along with some exceptional dialog and memorable
quotes, not to mention excellent performances by the entire acclaimed
The 80's version is harsh and sometimes even bleak, but far edgier and while also visually very unique, is far less superficially artistic (there's no sometimes interesting, sometimes downright distracting zig zag editing of the remake here) than Tony Scott's music video style (don't get me wrong, I really dig both of the Scott brothers' work!). The 80's version does not have same pyrotechnics featured in the latter film, and the action is a bit less satisfying. On the other hand the action in the 80's Man On Fire is disturbing, brutal and ugly. Just like real violence. This gives the film a very unpredictable and gritty flavor. Like a train wreck Glenn's Creasy does not seems to approach his "mission" like his 2004's more surgeon precise counterpart, but as a man who's finely honed training keeps him alive smashing a maze of the grimy underworld his obsessed mind propels him through. Where the slick action, high production values and more articulate script of the 2004 version does give it's film some major advantages, the 80's film's ending has it beat in spades. **MINOR SPOILER ALERT** (don't read following paragraph if you don't want to be spoiled, even if it is minor!)
The two films follow a very similar path throughout most of their respective journeys, but the end of the road for both could not be more different. More satisfying than the far more melancholy ending with Denzel Washington and a rather obvious tacked on final resolution to the final baddie yet to be dealt with on Creasy's list (watch it, it looks like it was filmed at the last second with just 2 actors in someone's backyard), the 80's film has an interesting bookend with it's unusual opening and ending. The finale is almost nightmarish as Scott Glenn's Creasy is insanely calling out his young charge's name, but it all ends with a far more sweet resolution than what we would have predicted. Without giving away who all lives and dies, it is a long belief of mine that the best films make you feel for characters that you are convinced will die, but then don't. It's like being on a thrillride, particularly simulation ones. People love the illusion and sensation of being in some great danger, but (barring strange accidents) walk away just fine.
Scott Glenn's Creasy deserves to be seen. It is a different experience than Denzel's, but it has equal merit in very different ways. And although Fanning is absolutely amazing as Denzel's charge in the remake, the original has the rare distinction of having a bit more ethnic child being the focus of Creasy's devotion and not the unlikely blond and very pale skin offspring of Marc Anthony. Yes, this was an intentional choice. There just are not many major Hollywood films that use an ethnic child to focus all of the efforts of the hero to save (and you can't say Golden Child! That kid had all kinds of special powers, a regular Asian sterotype...unless you really think we can all run up walls and teleport and whatnot). Give it a look, just be prepared to follow a dangerous crazy man on a mission for 90 minutes! It's sometimes very harrowing!
French auteur Elie Chouraqui often demonstrates his interest in dissecting film structure and conventions. Unlike "Menteurs" where Chouraqui constructs a (French) movie within a (French) movie, his earlier work "Man on Fire" deftly collides elements of European and Hollywood moviemaking by putting American actors inside the universe of Italian political thriller and making them look utterly un-American....A man is dying in some Italian military hospital. We see a body in a bag, though man's face remains obscure."That's how I died", - begins the narration, thus creating creepy and weird ambience for this otherwise formulaic story. Bodyguard Chris (Scott Glenn) is hired to protect Sam (Jade Malle), 12-year old daughter of American businessman (Jonathan Pryce). Chris doesnt't want to bond with Sam, but he can't resist her charms and reluctantly becomes her friend and mentor. These scenes are filmed with tact and delicacy; even some"Lolita-ish" touches can't spoil them. Chris' past remains a mystery, but when terrorists kidnap Sam, he will stop at nothing to save her. The direction is elegant (if a bit slow), but movie's biggest assets are its two leads: Jade Malle with her sincerity and freshness and Scott Glenn - one of the most underrated American actors. Former Marine, Glenn brings authenticity to a part where another thesp would look downright embarrassing. The bottom-line is: whose who seeks entertainment will not be disappointed in case they don't expect an "event" movie with a lot of pyrotechnics, while movie buffs will undoubtedly appreciate the chance to find out where Scorcese found his "Casino" story frame.
Seems to me that the reason why this movie isn't liked and known any
better is because the world was not really ready yet for a this sort of
action movie, at the time. It's more the sort of action-thriller we are
accustomed to of seeing now days, with a better- and more slow build up
to it. So the movie was actually ahead of its time and I could
understand Tony Scott's interest in this movie and why he decided to
make a remake of it, back in 2004.
It's definitely not an usual revenge flick. It seems more focused on its characters and drama really but this of course is not necessarily a bad thing. It actually makes this movie a pretty refreshing and original one within its genre. And having said that, it's not like the movie is all drama. It of course is still being filled with plenty of straightforward action, in its second.
And you would think that this is when the movie becomes truly good and interesting. However in this case I have to say I liked the first half, so its drama and buildup, better than the second, more action filled, one. I just liked the story and far slower pace of the movie its first half way better. It was a genuinely good movie, while its action part comes across as far more standard and the story suddenly got pushed to the background. Besides, director Élie Chouraqui was obviously far more at ease with telling a story than at handling the action really. It's still good and fun enough action all but it just still feels like the second half of the movie is doing a good job at destroying what the first half of the movie had been building up. In that regard this movie is totally the opposite of its remake, in which the second half and all of its action parts were its highlights.
With its pacing and buildup this definitely feels more like a foreign movie, which is not all that surprising really, considering that it had a French director at the helm. But this approach is actually what makes the movie work out as something special and refreshing. I however don't think simply just everybody will be able to appreciate this approach. especially of course when you are expecting a more straightforward action flick.
And for such a low key movie, it definitely has a great cast in it. Scott Glenn, Joe Pesci, Jonathan Pryce, all in one movie, that's pretty awesome! And there are all really right at place within this movie as well. Scott Glenn is a great leading man to have, when the main character is supposed to be a grumpy, tough guy, with his heart still at the right place.
Maybe it's only just a half successful movie but it's still really worth giving a go!
Not being fan of director Tony Scott's 2004 remake starring Denzel
Washington and Dakota Fanning, it however did get my attention that
this novel adaptation was also attempted in the late 80s in a very
European style. Not as easy to get a hold off, but it turned out to be
a solidly atypical, if unspectacular, lean revenge thriller with a
striking performance by Scott Glenn in the central role as former CIA
agent turned bodyguard Mr. Creasy. It's the cast that makes this one
work (where can you get Joe Pesci doing what he does best; getting
angry; yelling profanity, breaking radios and singing "Johnny Be
Goode"), outside some methodically stylish directorial touches (like
the opening slow motion intro) and stunning Italian backdrops and
decors. The music score is atmospherically edgy and always complements
the on-screen action with the cinematography fluidly projecting the
The pacing is rather stodgy, as it does take awhile before it builds up some momentum (soon after the ransom kidnapping by some terrorists), there it crackles along (Creasy gaining health and then going on the warpath finding those involved to only dispatch them) until reaching its abrupt, if confused climax. However the final frame really does paint a beautifully haunting picture, which does leave it open. While grimy and mean when it does explode (effectively staged too), it might be too short-lived, as it could have up the ante on numerous occasions (despite one bloody shoot-out and a brutal beat-up scene). Instead it's rather understated - more so moodily brooding in its activities (and Glenn's husky narration), as it's quite a lyrical character drama, spending a lot time developing upon the relationship of the young girl and her bodyguard. While not particularly deep, still it feels genuine in the thoughtful bonding and the transformations. Glenn's wearily lamenting, but hardy performance balances out nicely to Jade Malle's wholesomely bright turn. Danny Aiello shows up as one of the kidnappers. Also the cast features Brooke Adams (who we don't see too much of) and a little role for Jonathan Pryce.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am trying very hard to avoid scrapping with other reviewers -- after all, each of us means well, each of us is doing the best we can -- but to suggest that the newer Denzel version is a remake of this, the "original" is completely and absolutely incorrect. The truth is that, once upon a time, there was a reclusive European author with the pen-name A.J. Quinnell who gained notoriety among a select group of fans for his excellent series of novels about an ex-merc named Creasey who lived on a remote Greek island, and only left that island from time to time to take special "jobs;" or to seek revenge for friends that had been wronged. When he would take these special jobs, he almost always did so with a "team" formed of his old buddies, also mercs. The novels were uniformly excellent but never found a mainstream following. In fact one of the last ones had a very limited print run and you want to read it you may have go to a rare bookseller and pay a steep price. Of the set of Creasey novels, MAN ON FIRE was the odd man out, featuring the protagonist on his own (not in a team) and having some stress issues to boot. Just like (see my other reviews) the actor chosen to play the lead in SHOOTER looked nothing whatsoever like the character as described in the source novel by Stephen Hunter, Scott Glenn in this film looks nothing like Creasey in the Quinnell series, nor does he act like him. (Creasey was huge, and a stone-faced killer.) Which is not to say this is a bad film -- I ACTUALLY PREFER IT OVER THE DENZEL VERSION -- merely to point out that this is just one more sad example of the film biz "having its way" with a good work of fiction, and leaving mainly ashes in its wake. Once you overcome the fact that the director is not really following the source material very closely, you end up with a passable film, that perhaps makes up for in passion what it lacks in technique. Compared to a Bourne film, for example (one of the only examples I can think of where the films do actually resemble the source material -- HOW RARE IS THAT?) the deficiencies soon become obvious, however.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
John Creasy (Glenn) is a grizzled ex-CIA agent who has seen it all.
Thanks to his friend David (Pesci), he takes a job in Italy, protecting
a 12-year-old girl, Samantha (Malle) from the kidnapping danger
sweeping Italy at the time. Her parents, Jane and Michael (Adams and
Pryce, respectively) are never around so Creasy ends up spending a lot
of time with Sam, as she likes to be called. At first he resists the
relationship, but eventually he warms to her and they forge a real and
solid bond. It's just at that point, of course, that baddies get the
jump on Creasy and indeed kidnap the girl. Now with nothing to lose,
Creasy loads up on guns and sets out to find Sam and get revenge on her
captors, especially ringleader Conti (Aiello). Will he do it? We really
liked Man On Fire. It's sort of the Taken (2008) of its day, mixed with
a little Death Wish (1974)...alright, maybe it's not quite as awesome
as a mixture of those two classics might imply, but it is a worthwhile
movie with a classier-than-usual vibe, and the top-notch cast and
Italian settings add a lot. But truly the star of the show is Scott
Glenn, who puts in a great performance as the troubled Creasy. Even his
name sort of implies the world-weariness you can see on his face
("creases"). At first, he resembles Chuck Norris, but what's cool is,
when he sets out on his revenge mission, he shaves his beard, cuts his
hair and starts wearing sunglasses, as if to say, "No more games.
You're all gonna die". The movie is worth seeing for Glenn alone.
Acting as his foil is Joe Pesci, who really rocks out on his own version of "Johnny B. Goode" on acoustic guitar. This display of musical talent was obviously a precursor to his eventual CD release. That aside, what sets apart Man On Fire is the fact that it takes its time to develop the relationship between Sam and Creasy. And because it's European, it's all done very artistically. Perhaps the only drawback is there should have been a little MORE revenge (and there are some parts that are a little confusing) but all in all Man On Fire is definitely worth seeing.
For a quality revenge thriller, Man On Fire fits the bill.
NOTE: The movie was released on Vestron on VHS in the U.S., and before the movie there is a trailer for Amsterdamned (1988). This is the only place we know where you can see this particular trailer.
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I enjoyed this film when it first came out and even more when I had a chance to see it again this weekend. Though billed and treated by most as an action/thriller/revenge film it's much more than that. The aspect that really grabbed me was the development of the relationship of Scott Glenn's Chris Creasy and Jade Malle's Samantha. The gradual development of the Creasy character from an isolated and emotionally shut down loner first into a friend and finally into a surrogate father and mentor to Samantha is touching and believable. Touching and believable as well is Samantha's simultaneous evolution from a lonely if charming rich kid into Creasy's surrogate daughter and protégé. I just wish Ms. Malle, who exhibited such a strong screen presence in this film had gone on to make more films than the one other movie and one TV show credited to her on the IMDb site.
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