A raw and bloody serving of revenge

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A raw and bloody serving of revenge

It’s obvious why Denzel Washington would choose to work on “Man on Fire.” He gets to star as a tortured soul and collaborate with actors like Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken and Giancarlo Giannini. They all turn in graceful performances, and have good rapport. The first half of the movie focuses on character building, and there are some charming moments among the actors.
As if a solid cast weren’t enough, the movie also has the basic requirements for a good revenge movie, including a storyline of redemption, revenge and intrigue. As a result, “Man on Fire” is solid, but it’s also bloody, vengeful and stylistic, with lots of short takes and hyperkinetic camera editing.
Take the beginning of the movie. It’s horrific. The only purpose the first five minutes or so serve is to set the mood and to demonstrate how cruel and insane kidnapping can be. (To give you an idea, $10 million and the chopping off of an ear are involved.) Critics have lambasted the movie for its gore, lack of moral fiber and camera techniques. But it’s a revenge movie, for crying out loud. The gore and skittish camera takes are there from the onset. “Man on Fire” doesn’t hide what it’s about.
Washington stars as Creasy, a former CIA assassin turned alcoholic who goes to Mexico City to visit a war buddy, Rayburn (Walken). Creasy lands a job as a bodyguard for Pita (Fanning). Pita may be a rich young girl, but she draws Creasy out of his shell. Of course, she is kidnapped (for $10 million, a nice, round sum). Washington almost dies trying to protect her.
For those who weren’t aware of it, the avenging of a death often involves, well, more death, or at least leaving someone with an unpleasant life. And the more horrible the crime, the more unpleasant the revenge. Washington goes on a bloody rampage that includes chopping off a man’s fingers and sticking explosives up another man’s nether regions. Is that necessary? Is murder okay as long as the vigilante brings down the bad guys? Did it matter when the Bride went on a killing spree in the “Kill Bill” movies?
“Kill Bill” was art, perhaps because the director was Quentin Tarantino. The director of “Man on Fire” is Tony Scott, whose past movies include mainstream romantic dramas like “Top Gun.” But Scott has done gritty before, like in “True Romance” in 1993. Despite its gushy title, it also included a bloodbath, and, incidentally, was written by Tarantino.
“Man on Fire’s” visuals are frenetic, especially in the second half. The effect is to create a sense of urgency and speed up the pace, which is actually a good thing, considering that the movie is more then two hours long. It does detract at times from moments that are supposed to be poignant, but that’s Scott’s storytelling choice. And it’s actually an artistic choice.
Scott presents “Man on Fire” almost as an arthouse film. Rayburn tries to explain Creasy to Manzano (Giannini), a Mexican federal agent: “A man can be an artist in anything. Food... wine... it depends on how good he is at it. Creasy’s art is death, and he’s about to paint his masterpiece.” “Man on Fire” may not be a masterpiece, but it’s Scott’s art.

“Man on Fire”
Action, Thriller / English
147 mins.
Now showing

by Joe Yong-hee
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