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MAN ON FIRE
Collector's Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Giannini, Radha Mitchell, Marc Anthony, Rachel Ticotin, Mickey Rourke
Director: Tony Scott
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 146 Minutes
Release Date: May 24, 2005

“Forgiveness is between them and God. It’s my job to arrange the meeting.”

Film ***

Tony Scott is a director known for his unique visual style and superb crafting of movies in the action and suspense genre. He’s directed such masterful works as True Romance and Enemy of the State. Another of Scott’s best films, Crimson Tide, marked a collaboration with actor Denzel Washington, who has reunited with Scott for the poetic action thriller, Man on Fire.

Scott has said in interviews that of all the films he’s made in his career, this is by far his most personal, and that’s quite believable. He has woven together his usual technical trademarks, combined them with a screenplay by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) and a powerful performance from Washington. The result is a movie that is not without flaws, but is totally worth one’s attention.

Scott has brought to this film an uncompromising vision of present day Mexico City, where kidnappings are more random than perhaps anywhere else on the planet. It is stated in the opening that in Mexico City, there is one kidnapping every 60 minutes, and that 75% of the victims do not survive. It just happens to be an unfortunate means of business for the culprits who commit them.

The center focus of the story is John Creasy (Washington), a former CIA operative who has arrived to meet up with his former boss, Rayburn (Christopher Walken). Creasy is a burned out soul, and an alcoholic; haunted by nightmares of incidents in the past he can never forgive himself. On the brink of suicide, Rayburn offers him a job as a bodyguard.

Creasy accepts the job, which consists of protecting the daughter of a wealthy Mexican industrialist. She is Pita Ramos (Dakota Fanning). The father, Samuel (Marc Anthony), is convinced by his lawyer (Mickey Rourke) to have her protected with the kidnapping rate so high. Creasy is hired, despite his admitting to drinking heavily to the parents.

The job turns out to be more difficult than Creasy thinks. He’s not looking to be friends with anyone, yet Pita is such a loving and friendly person, that Creasy slowly but surely starts to bond with her. Before long, this little girl has done nothing short of show her destructive protector a reason to live again.

But just when Creasy’s life starts to see signs of a turnaround, the unthinkable happens. He is gunned down by corrupt cops and left for dead, as Pita is taken away in the blink of an eye. As Creasy lies in a coma, and an attempt to deliver a ransom goes badly, it seems as if the life of the kidnapped girl may have very much ended.

Once Creasy has gotten back on his feet, and receives the grim news, he makes a vow to the mother, that he will kill anyone and everyone who had anything to do with the kidnapping, even if they profited from it. He then has Rayburn help in assemble for him an arsenal to help get the job done. Just as Creasy was on the brink of becoming a changed man, he’s been forced right back to his former killing methods.

The second half of Man on Fire, which chronicles Creasy hunting down numerous members of a cartel suspected of the kidnapping, is without question the most brutally effective of the entire movie. Director’s Scott’s invigorating camera techniques and perfect use of a couple of Nine Inch Nails songs help in delivering the sheer power of these sequences.

Two scenes, in particular, are sure to have you gasping for air. The first of which has Creasy interrogating his first suspect; a scene that will make you thankful for your ten fingers. The second of which involves the use of an explosive device on another suspect. I won’t dare mention the area where the explosive is used, but I will say that I cringed just at the thought of it.

The one thing keeping Man on Fire from being a surefire masterpiece is one simple factor; over length. While I appreciate the film taking its time in allowing character development in the first hour, it causes the movie to run about twenty five minutes longer than it needs to. With plot elements that could’ve been solved in a two hour movie is executed in a nearly two and a half hour movie. In addition, this film had something of a misfortunate to be released in theaters at the same time as The Punisher and Kill Bill Vol. 2, which are also revenge thrillers and are far better by comparison.

However, the overall film remains a powerful piece, both visually and in story. A commanding performance from Denzel Washington, as well as grand supporting work from Dakota Fanning and Christopher Walken, combined with Tony Scott’s razor sharp vision, blend to make a dark action thriller whose high marks more than make up for its slight flaws.

Video ****

Believe me when I say that this is one amazing looking disc! Thankfully, Fox only released this film in Widescreen, because the film would’ve no doubt lost a great deal of visual momentum if presented in Full Screen. Fox’s anamorphic presentation injects all the elements of an outstanding looking movie on DVD. The powerful visuals of the movie ignite the screen with everything to sharp imaging to incredible colors to all around outstanding detail. Without question, one of the best looking discs I’ve ever come across.

Audio ****

Likewise in the audio department. With an option of Dolby 5.1 or DTS 5.1, both of which provide amazing earth-shaking sound, this is one remarkable piece of DVD audio. By way of the technical qualities displayed by Tony Scott, the sound of this disc is outstanding right from its opening sequence. The action sequences, as well as the vast array of the music choices on the soundtrack, especially the NIN cuts, provide some of the biggest jolts you’re bound to get in a single DVD presentation. The highest of marks all the way!

Features ****

This 2-Disc All Access Collector’s Edition from Fox boasts some truly phenomenal extras. If you bought the first disc, and were let down by the low level of extras, this one is definitely worth getting, as it provides more bang for your buck!

Disc One includes two commentary tracks; the first with Tony Scott, the second with screenwriter Brian Helgeland, costar Dakota Fanning and producer Lucas Foster.

Disc Two is a loaded arsenal of extras. Featured is a riveting production documentary titled “Vengeance is Mine”. Also included is an alternate ending with optional commentary by Tony Scott, 14 Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Tony Scott, a Multi-Angle Scene Study (Pita's Abduction) with optional commentary by Tony Scott, Director's Storyboards and Script Excerpt, a Still Photo Gallery, a music video for "Oye Como Va" by Kinky, and Theatrical Trailers/TV Spots.

Summary:

With Man on Fire, Tony Scott has delivered a poetic, blood-soaked action thriller that hits straight to the heart. Despite running a little too long, this is one movie that demands your attention. And this new 2-disc offering from Fox is nothing short of a dynamite release!

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