Man on FireMan on Fire on DVD

Man on Fire is a difficult movie to analyze, and an even harder one to review.

Chances are, you think it’s nothing more than a typical action thriller about a kidnapped girl and the bodyguard who wants to get her back. You’d be forgiven for such thoughts, as that’s exactly the impression you get from the trailers, reviews, and even the box.

So you may be surprised to learn that Man on Fire is actually a deep, thought provoking, expertly crafted piece of cinema.

John Creasy (Denzel Washington) is a burned-out CIA operative with plenty of demons inside. He’s found solace in the bottle, and often wonders whether or not he even wants to continue living. That is, until his friend Rayburn (Christopher Walken) gets him a job as bodyguard to nine-year-old Pita Ramos (Dakota Fanning).

At first Creasy is completely straight-laced, not even wanting to talk to Pita. But the friendly charm of the little girl is enough to make even him smile, and maybe even give the rest of his life a second thought.

Until of course, Pita is kidnapped and held for ransom. Then things start to go awry. Creasy was shot several times during the kidnapping and, despite that fact, is suspected as an accomplice due to his killing of two police officers. After his lengthy recovery, he decides to let a few of his demons out to teach a few lessons to the people involved.

Don’t be fooled. Man on Fire is not an all-out action extravaganza. Absolutely nothing happens for the first 45 minutes or so. Initially, you may think it’s just taking a really long time to get started, but if you pay attention, you’ll notice that it’s actually telling a very beautiful story. Sure, we’ve seen this kind of thing before, but everything is done so well it’s easy to forgive. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland does an excellent job of making us care about Creasy and Pita, and the development of their relationship nearly brings a tear to your eye. We really feel for him when Pita is taken and he’s left for dead, and we don’t blame him for wanting vengeance.

The action is crafted well also, but it’s not all big action set pieces and endless car chases and explosions. Creasy is much more subtle, opting instead for the classic mob hit approach.

Director Tony Scott has come a long way from his early days of directing movies like Top Gun, which were pure style over substance. Man on Fire and Spy Game are wonderfully told stories that just happen to feature some action. And although his intense music video style may be a bit disconcerting at first, it actually works very well.

Denzel gives possibly his worst performance to date but, much like Scott’s style, it works a lot better than you’d think. It’s probably due more to the fact that there’s not a lot of talking in his role, and it involves a lot of sitting and staring with a broken down look on his face.

Dakota Fanning, however, is an incredibly talented young lady. There aren’t a lot of little girls that can play little girls so well. She’s already starred in many a film, and we’ll get to see plenty more of her in upcoming productions. Let’s hope she manages to make a much-deserved career in acting.

The Blu-ray version of the film features a magnificent 1080p presentation, in glorious 2.40:1 widescreen. Colors are rich and detail is sharp, and the overall picture is great, though we did notice a couple of short scenes that feature a bit of grain. But it isn't enough to spoil the disc's overall great picture quality.

Audio is pretty impressive (featuring dts HD 5.1 master lossless sound), with great separation of elements, plenty of surround use (though it doesn’t start until the movie really gets going), and an aggressive subwoofer track.

Unfortunately, there are no extras. We assume, cynically, that this is so a special edition Blu-ray version can be released later, when the market is bigger. That's a shame, because they should be offering the most incentive for people to move into Blu-ray now - and the DVD included two audio commentaries, one by Tony Scott, the other by Dakota Fanning, Brian Helgeland, and producer Lucas Foster. Neither track was particularly compelling, but you do learn one or two things about the production.

Man on Fire, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
146 minutes, 1080p anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1) 16x9 enhanced, dts HD 5.1 master lossless audio
Starring Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken and Mickey Rourke
Produced by Arnon Milchan, Tony Scott, Lucas Foster
written by Brian Helgeland , Directed by Tony Scott

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

Buy the eBook
Ransom for the stars
of Jim Bray's
fantastic Sci-Fi Adventure