Man on Fire

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 2003, burnt-out ex-CIA officer and former Force Recon Marine officer John Creasy (Denzel Washington) looks for work and reunites with old friend and comrade Paul Rayburn (Christopher Walken), who runs a security firm in Mexico. Because of the extremely high rate of kidnappings in Mexico City for ransom money, businessman Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) hires Creasy through Rayburn to guard his nine-year-old daughter “Pita” (Dakota Fanning), intending to keep him on for only a short period in order to renew his kidnap and ransom insurance on Pita. Creasy suffers from alcoholism, depression, and severe guilt as a result of his past work as a counterinsurgency fighter and professional assassin, and so works for Samuel at a rate far below what his experience would command. At first Creasy distances himself socially from Pita, but the two soon develop a friendship, which allows Creasy to overcome his demons and to act as a mentor and surrogate father-figure to the girl.

After a piano lesson, Pita is abducted in public; Creasy kills four of the kidnappers, but he is shot multiple times and collapses. The Ramos’ agree to deliver a dead drop ransom of US$10 million per the instructions of “La Voz” (“The Voice”) (Roberto Sosa), the mastermind behind the kidnapping ring. Samuel’s attorney, Jordan Kalfus (Mickey Rourke), arranges for the ransom money to be collected from Samuel’s kidnapping insurance policy, then arranges for it to be delivered to the kidnappers. The drop, however, is ambushed by members of “La Hermandad”, a Mexican crime syndicate composed of corrupt police officers, leading to several of the ring members killed and the money being stolen. The Voice notifies the Ramos’ that Pita will be killed in retribution.

Creasy leaves the hospital before fully recovering from his wounds and vows to Pita’s mother Lisa (Radha Mitchell) that he will kill everyone involved in Pita’s abduction. Rayburn supplies Creasy with firearms and explosives, while Mariana Guerrero (Rachel Ticotin), a journalist investigating the kidnappings, and Miguel Manzano (Giancarlo Giannini), an agent of the Agencia Federal de Investigación (AFI), offer their support. Creasy tortures and murders several targets for their information, and eventually learns from a corrupt high-ranking police officer that the bags stolen from the ransom drop contained only $2.5 million.

Investigating further, Creasy finds Kalfus dead and evidence of Samuel’s desperate financial situation, and he confronts him with Lisa present. Samuel confesses to Creasy and Lisa that he agreed to Kalfus’ plan to stage Pita’s kidnapping, so he could pay off business debts by fraudulently collecting the insurance money. He planned to keep $5 million for himself, and split the rest between Kalfus and the kidnappers. He also confesses to killing Kalfus. Creasy leaves a pistol and one bullet (a faulty round that he had previously used to attempt suicide) for Samuel, who then uses these to commit suicide.

Using the information provided by Creasy, The Voice’s identity is revealed to be Daniel Sánchez, who Mariana exposes in the newspapers. Creasy shows up at Daniel’s ex-wife’s house and is shot by his brother Aurelio (Gero Camilo), who then tries unsuccessfully to escape. Creasy calls Daniel and threatens to kill his family, and Daniel reveals that Pita is still alive; offering to free her if Creasy surrenders himself and brings Aurelio. Creasy agrees and he and Lisa arrive at the exchange site, where he and Pita share a tearful goodbye before he is taken and driven away by the kidnappers. Creasy dies peacefully en route as a result of his gunshot injuries. Daniel Sánchez is later killed by Manzano during an AFI arrest.

REVIEW:

Am I the only who almost burst out into Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” with the title to Man on Fire? Talk about an earworm, right? So, here we have Denzel doing what he does best, but with a cast that is mostly on par with him, even if their material isn’t. Let’s find out if this is worth a watch, shall we?

What is this about?

Jaded ex-CIA operative John Creasy reluctantly accepts a job as the bodyguard for a 10-year-old girl in Mexico City. They clash at first, but eventually bond, and when she’s kidnapped he’s consumed by fury and will stop at nothing to save her life.

What did I like?

Connection. As the film begins and we meet Denzel Washington’s character, we learn that he is more the loner, not wanting to really have a connection to his clients. For a good part of the first half of the picture, we see him hold to that, but all it takes is a sweet little girl and that façade is quickly melted. Once the chemistry between Washington and young Dakota Fanning was ignited, this became a much more enjoyable film. Not to mention, without that connection, the events and motivation for the later parts of the picture would not have happened, I don’t believe.

Kidnap plot. We’ve all seen kidnap plots in television and movies, but the intricate way in which this one was planned and executed was something of interest. First off, the person behind it, who turns out to be a total surprise, is not someone you would expect to be kidnapping young Dakota Fanning. Second, the confusing paper trail, for lack of a better term, that was left behind throws everyone, including the audience off the scent, making for much time on the edge of your seat.

I’m Walken. Who doesn’t love Christopher Walken? I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s comic relief in this role, but he does manage to lighten the mood when he’s on screen, even if he isn’t necessarily cracking jokes. He also comes in handy as an informant and distraction when needed, which is always a plus.

What didn’t I like?

Accent. As usual, I take umbrage with a southern accent. Hey, I’m from and live in the south! I’m pretty sure I know what our accents sound like down here. Radha Mitchell, for some odd reason, is spitting out a horrendous accent that makes the cast of True Blood sound authentic. On top of her accent, I question why there was the decision to make her southern, living in Mexico and, to a lesser extent white. That isn’t a race thing, it just wasn’t explained. She doesn’t seem like the type that would just make random trip south of the border or uproot everything to move there.

Transition. The transition from the “happy” first half of the film to the darker second half was ok, but I felt having Washington laying there in the bed and accused of murdering police officers seemed a bit cliché and cliffhanger-ish. Surely, there had to be some other way to do this so that it didn’t seem so episodic!

Slow. With Denzel Washington films, you can never expect them to be fast-paced, action-packed popcorn flick, 2 Guns being the closest thing to an exception to the rule. However, his films that seems to be more action-based tend to actually pick up near the end. In this one, he goes on a killing spree in an effort to find the kidnapped little girl, and yet the film never speeds up. As a matter of fact, I think it gets slower as it gets darker. I would have liked for it to have picked up, if only for a little bit, during the killing/torture scenes.

I do not believe I have ever seen a bad performance from Denzel Washington. Even if the film is bad, he delivers! Man on Fire was nothing memorable, in my opinion, but it isn’t something that should be forgotten in terms of performances. Washington’s strong presence, as well as the mature way beyond her years Dakota Fanning help make this a film that is worth a watch or two. Then there is the actual plot and story, which are solidly written. Do I recommend this? Yes, while I don’t highly recommend it, I can say that it is worth checking out at least once. Give it a shot, why don’t you?

4 out of 5 stars

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