What makes this film work is Washington’s powerful portrayal of Creasy as a man who has pretty much given up on himself. Early in the film, wonders if God will ever forgive them him. Staggering under the burden of his guilt, he drinks constantly, whether to kill the pain or to work up the courage to finally kill himself, we’re not sure. But it looks like pure agony, and we’re just rooting for him to find release.

(2004) Film Review

This page was created on April 24 , 2004
This page was last updated on December 28, 2004


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KEVIN MILLER SAYS: What makes this film work is Washington’s powerful portrayal of Creasy as a man who has pretty much given up on himself. Early in the film, he asks Rayburn if he thinks God will ever forgive them for what they’ve done. Rayburn responds with a rather matter-of-fact “no,” and then moves on to the next topic. Forgiveness doesn’t seem to matter much to Rayburn, but Creasy is another story. Review
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MELINDA LEDMAN SAYS: Although this movie was entertaining, the message is extracted only after further thought and analysis. I had to review my notes to make any sense of it. Overall though, I could say that I enjoyed this movie. Review

 

CREDITS

Directed by Tony Scott
Novel by A.J. Quinnell (novel)
Screenplay by Brian Helgeland

Cast (in credits order)
Denzel Washington .... Creasy
Dakota Fanning .... Pita
Marc Anthony .... Samuel
Radha Mitchell .... Lisa
Christopher Walken .... Rayburn
Giancarlo Giannini .... Manzano
Rachel Ticotin .... Mariana
Jesús Ochoa .... Fuentes
Mickey Rourke .... Jordan
Angelina Peláez .... Sister Anna
Gustavo Sánchez Parra .... Daniel Sanchez
Gero Camilo .... Aurelio Sanchez
Rosa María Hernández .... Maria
Heriberto Del Castillo .... Bruno
Mario Zaragoza .... Jorge Ramirez
Javier Torres Zaragoza .... Sandri
Iztel Navarro Vazquez .... Sandri's Girl

Produced by
Lucas Foster .... producer
Conrad Hool .... co-producer
Lance Hool .... executive producer
Arnon Milchan .... producer
Tony Scott .... producer
James W. Skotchdopole .... executive producer
Peter Toumasis .... associate producer

Original Music by Harry Gregson-Williams
Justin Caine Burnett (additional music)
Toby Chu (additional music)
Cinematography by Paul Cameron
Film Editing by Christian Wagner


MPAA: Rated R for language and strong violence.
Runtime: 146 min

For rating reasons, go to FILMRATINGS.COM, and MPAA.ORG.
Parents, please refer to PARENTALGUIDE.ORG

TRAILERS AND CLIPS
Trailers, Photos
BOOK
Man on Fire
by A.J. Quinnell

Creasy thought he had nothing left to lose. He was wrong.
An American soldier of fortune far from home -- alcoholic, burnt out, and broken down -- Creasy has accepted a job as a bodyguard just for something to do. An emotionally dead, one-time warrior, he knows that nothing can pierce the hard shell he's built around himself -- until the little girl he's been hired to protect somehow breaks through. But having something to care about again in making Creasy vulnerable. And when the unthinkable occurs, a man on fire won't just burn ... he'll explode.
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SYNOPSIS
Click to enlargeA wave of kidnappings has swept through Mexico, feeding a growing sense of panic among its wealthier citizens, especially parents. In one six-day period, there were 24 abductions, leading many to hire bodyguards for their children.

Into this world enters John Creasy (DENZEL WASHINGTON), a burned-out ex-CIA operative/assassin who has given up on life. Creasy’s friend Rayburn (CHRISTOPHER WALKEN) brings him to Mexico City to be a bodyguard to nine-year-old Pita Ramos (DAKOTA FANNING), daughter of industrialist Samuel Ramos (MARC ANTHONY) and his wife Lisa (RADHA MITCHELL). Creasy is not interested in being a bodyguard, especially to a youngster, but for lack of something better to do, he accepts the assignment.

Creasy barely tolerates the precocious child and her pestering questions about him and his life. But slowly, she chips away at his seemingly impenetrable exterior, his defenses drop, and he opens up to her. Creasy’s new-found purpose in life is shattered when Pita is kidnapped. Despite being mortally wounded during the kidnapping, Creasy is “a man on fire,” as he vows to kill anyone involved in or profiting from the kidnapping. And no one can stop him.

MAN ON FIRE
Click to go to Kevin's Blog Reviewed by Kevin Miller BLOG

Kevin Miller is a freelance writer, editor, and educator who has written, co-written, and edited over 30 books, both fiction and non-fiction. A film reviewer for the past two years, Kevin is very excited to join hollywoodjesus.com. He currently resides in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada with his wife, Heidi, and their children Huw and Gretchen (and one more on the way). They attend Fresh Wind Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational church that focuses on reaching the disabled, children, and people who've been "burnt by the church." To learn more about Kevin, visit www.kevinwrites.com
Click to enlargeMan On Fire is the latest in a series of “lone gunman (or swordwoman) gets justice” films released over the last several months. Last fall it was Mystic River and Kill Bill Vol. 1. This month alone has seen Kill Bill Vol. 2, The Punisher, Walking Tall, and now this. The difference between Man On Fire and most of the others listed is that it strives to be a character study in addition to an action piece. However, the central premise is the same: An injustice is committed, so the hero seeks revenge, which usually means several other people die. In the end, the hero either goes down fighting or walks off into the sunset, wounded perhaps, but content that justice has been served.

Click to enlargeThat pretty much sums up the plot of Man On Fire. In this case, the hero is John Creasy (Denzel Washington), a Jack Daniels-addicted former soldier of fortune who lands a job protecting a ten-year-old girl, Pita, in Mexico City. Just as her friendship starts to thaw out this hardened loner, Pita is abducted, and Creasy is nearly killed trying to save her. When he comes to a few days later, he learns the ransom payment went bad and Pita has been killed. That’s when the payback begins. As Creasy’s former comrade-in-arms Rayburn (Christopher Walken) says (without a hint of irony), “Every man is an artist… Creasy’s art is death. And he’s about to paint his masterpiece.” Whether Creasy survives the bloodbath or succumbs in the process is something I’ll leave for you to discover.

Click to enlargeWhat makes this film work is Washington’s powerful portrayal of Creasy as a man who has pretty much given up on himself. Early in the film, he asks Rayburn if he thinks God will ever forgive them for what they’ve done. Rayburn responds with a rather matter-of-fact “no,” and then moves on to the next topic. Forgiveness doesn’t seem to matter much to Rayburn, but Creasy is another story. Staggering under the burden of his guilt, he drinks constantly, whether to kill the pain or to work up the courage to finally kill himself, we’re not sure. But it looks like pure agony, and we’re just rooting for him to find release.

Click to enlargeCreasy seems to have a fairly good understanding of the Bible, enough to complete Romans 12:21 (“Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good”) when Sister Ana, a nun at Pita’s school, quotes it to him. However, like many people today, Creasy knows only enough to realize he’s in trouble when his turn comes to stand before God. As he says to Sister Ana, “I’m one of the lost sheep.” Unfortunately, Creasy is either ignorant of God’s plan of forgiveness through Jesus Christ or he believes he doesn’t deserve it. Either way, he sees God as his enemy, not his friend. Have you ever felt like you’ve sinned beyond the point of forgiveness? Would you like to talk about it?

During Creasy’s brief interaction with Sister Ana, she also asks him if he’s ever seen the hand of God in his life. Creasy says, no. But shortly afterwards, his life is spared miraculously. Thus begins a conversion experience similar to that of Jules in Pulp Fiction. Perhaps there’s still hope for Creasy after all. God must have had a reason for sparing his life. Now it’s up to Creasy to find out why.

Pita’s mother also finds herself turning to God after her daughter is abducted. As she says to Creasy, “Go figure: Last week all I was worried about was which disco to go to. Now I’m reading the Bible.” This is a good example of how we tend to automatically reach out to a higher power during a crisis, whether we’re normally religious or not. Have you ever done this? Did it help?

Click to enlargeA question many critics have raised about this film is why A-list actors and directors like Denzel Washington and Tony Scott are lending their considerable talents to what used to be considered B movie material. After all, in the 1970s and 1980s, it was Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood or Sylvester Stallone playing roles like this, not Academy Award winning actors like Denzel Washington. There was a time, however, when Westerns attracted the best talents in the biz. And if you think about it, Man On Fire and similar films have all the same elements as the classic Western, which are themselves reinterpretations of still more ancient stories of justice and revenge. So I think it’s only natural for big names to be attracted to such archetypal stories.

Click to enlargeA secondary question is why such “person gets revenge” films remain so popular. Could it have something to do with people’s growing sense of injustice in the world? Perhaps we all feel like it’s high time for a little payback. Or maybe we feel powerless as individuals to affect real change in an increasingly depersonalized society, so we enjoy rooting for people who do, even if they do so in ways we never would. I know I felt more than a little gratified when Creasy vowed to kill whoever was responsible for Pita’s death. And I don’t think I was the only one.

However, as I observed Creasy’s transformation from sensitive loner to hardened killer, I began to wonder what made him different from the people he was hunting. Sure, they had abducted and killed a defenseless little girl, which was reprehensible. But Creasy was systematically torturing and killing them in return. His actions may have seemed justified in light of what the others had done, but were they any less horrifying? It made me wonder how often we try to justify our own actions like this—both as individuals and as a nation. If our motives are right, does that mean we can use any means necessary to achieve our ends? And at what point do we cross the line from righteous avenger to ruthless tyrant? Are we even capable of making such a decision? What do you think?
Click to go to BlogReview by MELINDA LEDMAN BLOG
HJMLedman@yahoo.com.
Melinda Ledman is a graduate of Baylor University with a Bachelor’s degree in English. During college, she worked on the film Letter From Waco (director Don Howard), which won the award for best documentary feature in the 1997 South by Southwest Film Festival. After she and her husband Rob had their first child in September 2002, she began free-lance writing full time. In addition to writing reviews, she most enjoys writing original screenplays. She gratefully serves God after 12 years of alcoholism, and appreciates grace and freedom on a whole new level.
Click to enlargeMy husband loved this movie, but I found myself confused by its theme development. The movie held my attention for sure, with only a few minor lulls in the plot (lulls that were ultimately saved by switchbacks in the story). Dakota Fanning gives an incredibly believable performance, and Denzel delivers the goods as expected. There are also a surprising number of Biblical references throughout the movie.

Thematically, this movie jumps around. Like TV courtroom dramas, it exposes the realities surrounding a concept without making any particular judgment call. Ultimately, viewers must decide what they think about the subject matter. So what is the subject matter? Professional murder. In this movie, murder is a business, both for the good guys and the bad guys. The only difference is that the good guys have a conscience . . . sometimes.

Click to enlargeWhen the bad guys murder…it is clearly wrong. Every bit of our moral fiber screams out against the injustice of using people as financial bargaining chips. Furthermore, the senseless murder of children whose parents can’t or don’t deliver forces us to cry out for justice against the evildoers. Forget mercy, “kill ‘em all,” as Pita’s mother puts it.

Click to enlargeWhen the good guys murder…it’s gray area. Vengeance seems acceptable given the circumstances, but it doesn’t quite balance the fact that Creasy mercilessly kills people even after they cooperate. Furthermore, the bad guys of La Hermandad and the ring leader, La Voz, refer to themselves as professionals. They make this comment enough times to clue the viewer in to the fact that Creasy also considers himself a “professional” assassin. After Pita’s abduction/murder, he vows to do what he does best, kill everyone who participated or profited from the transaction. His best friend refers to him as an artist whose talent is death. But, still he suffers from guilt and depression because of what he does. So . . . is it wrong? The movie doesn’t tell you what to think.

Click to enlargeCreasy as a Lost Sheep – The story plays with several Biblical images, including the parable of the lost sheep. In Matthew 15:13, Jesus refers to himself as the shepherd and to believers as the sheep in his fold. Jesus makes it clear that if a sheep wanders away from the fold, he will leave the rest of the flock to find the lost sheep. When we first meet Creasy, he drinks heavily, wanders from job to job, and seeks peace in Mexico where his friend lives. After accepting the job as Pita’s bodyguard, he rejects her attempts to get close to him, admits to the school Madre that he is “the sheep that got lost,” and even tries to commit suicide. In a way, Pita becomes the Christ figure for a time by seeking him out and touching his soul. Her vulnerability and childlike love awaken new life in Creasy, and she gives him a pendant of St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. After receiving the pendant, he reaches for the Bible instead of the whiskey bottle.

Creasy as the Hand of Justice – Much like The Punisher, this movie takes off into pure vengeance at the close of the first act (when Pita is kidnapped). With Pita presumed dead, only judgment remains. Creasy becomes the hand of justice for all the kidnapping victims by putting an end to the regime. He starts at the bottom with La Hermandad (the “brotherhood” of dirty cops) and works his way up to the top (La Voz, “The Voice,” the ring leader whose face is never seen). With the help of a courageous reporter and an AFI agent, he utilizes his assassin training to punish and destroy the entire organization. Much like the Angel of Death (see more on this in The Punisher review), Creasy executes judgment on evildoers.

Spoiler Warning—skip to the end if you haven’t seen the movie!!

Click to enlargeCreasy as the Christ Figure – Creasy’s journey follows the path of the verse he quotes in Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” The Madre asks him if he ever sees the hand of God in the work that he does. He initially claims that he doesn’t, but then he does come to understand his “calling” to protect people as the movie progresses. Much like Christ as deliverer, he destroys the kidnapping organization and liberates the people from fear and abuse. Later, he makes a more personal sacrifice for Pita. He literally exchanges his own life for hers. Some simple visual connections include: Creasy walks uphill to save Pita (Christ walked up the hill of Calvary to the cross), he stumbles as he approaches the car (Christ supposedly stumbled under the weight of the cross, causing the Romans to force Simon of Cyrene to help – Matt. 27:33), Pita is set free (Christ forever set free sinners across the earth and throughout time – Rom. 8:1-2), Creasy looks up to a mountain just before he dies (Christ is transfigured, or changed, on a mountain before his death – Mark 9:23), Creasy dies in the car without being shot by the bad guys (Christ said that no one took his life from him, but he gave it up of his own free will – John 10:18), and when talking to Pita, he refers to his destination as “home” (Christ sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven today – Matt. 26:64).

Although this movie was entertaining, the message is extracted only after further thought and analysis. I had to review my notes to make any sense of it. Overall though, I could say that I enjoyed this movie.

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