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Hard drinking, burnt out ex CIA operative John Creasy has given up on life until he's hired as a bodyguard to protect nine year old Pita Ramos. Bit by bit, Creasy begins to reclaim some of his soul, but when pita is kidnapped, Creasy's fiery rage is finally released and he will stop at nothing to save her as he sets out on a dangerous, revenge fuelled rescue mission. Written by
You know you're in for something different when a movie has Christopher Walken playing the part of a professional hit man - and he isn't even one of the bad guys! Although it could do with some judicious trimming here and there, "Man on Fire" is a generally effective crime drama that ranges in tone from the openly sentimental to the downright brutal - and just about every tone imaginable in between.
Denzel Washington stars as Creasy, a former CIA assassin who has recently quit the business and is seeking some sort of redemption for the sins he's committed. So far, he's been looking for answers in a bottle and the Bible and not doing all that well with either. As the movie opens, Mexico City has been ravaged by a series of kidnappings aimed at the powerful and well-to-do, possibly perpetrated by the very police force assigned to keep law and order in the community. Creasy accepts the position as bodyguard to the daughter of a wealthy business owner who rightly fears for her safety. The first third of the film is devoted to the growing friendship between Creasy and his charge, Pita, a sweet little girl who, slowly but surely, works her way into Creasy's initially hardened heart and affections. The last two-thirds of the film turns into an Avenging Angel melodrama, as Creasy systematically seeks out and eliminates all those responsible for a tragedy that occurs early on in the story.
Based on the novel by A.J Quinnell, "Man on Fire," astutely written by Brian Helgeland and flashily directed by Tony Scott, is a coolly efficient action picture that never shies away from the raw brutality of its subject matter. It takes a risk in asking us to identify with a man who is, for all intents and purposes, achieving his redemption by torturing and murdering (admittedly disreputable) people. These scenes of carnage and violence are both intense and suspenseful, even if they do at times border on the exploitative. Even better are the quiet, intimate moments between Creasy and Pita in the early parts of the movie. Washington and the wonderful Dakota Fanning establish an natural, easygoing rapport that helps to set the stage for the chaos and turmoil to follow.
Washington carries the movie with his quality of stoic righteousness, making us understand his character on an emotional level even if what he is doing eludes us intellectually. In addition to the two leads, there are solid performances from Walken, Marc Anthony, Radha Mitchell, Mickey Rourke, Rachel Ticotin and Giancarlo Giannini. But it is Washington and the delightful Ms. Fanning who steal the show.
"Man on Fire" would have been better with about a half hour taken out its running time, but this is still a better-than-average crime thriller.
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