Written by Brian Helgeland
Directed by Tony Scott
While I was watching Man on Fire, I realized right off the bat that there were two things I loved about this movie. First, Christopher Walken was a good guy. I can’t remember the last time he was in a crime thriller where he wasn’t the heavy. What a refreshing thing to see. I wanted more of him, dammit. Rather than fearing Walken, I wanted him to be my friend!
The other thing I loved about this movie was that it’s a hell of a lot smarter and darker than it had any right to be. When Tony Scott passed away last week, I realized that I still hadn’t seen Man on Fire, and it languished in the middle of my ridiculously overweight Netflix queue. I kept passing it over because I thought it reeked of blandness. On the surface, it appeared to be some generic Denzel-on-a-rampage thriller featuring a kidnapping plot on autopilot. And Scott, around the time this film was released, wasn’t impressing me with his jittery cuts and A.D.D.-style of editing.
Well, needless to say, I was wrong. I knew I was in for a surprise when the film took 40 minutes to set up its characters and main storyline. For 40 minutes, screenwriter Brian Helgeland put us in Creasy’s new world, established several key relationship touches and slowly ramped up the tension. Throw in the good guy Walken, and I’ll be damned, Man on Fire seemed to be anything but conventional.
And boy, was it dark! Tony Scott took us through some dangerously lurid territory, having Creasy (a “good guy” by Hollywood standards!) mutilate and torture anyone who crosses his path. This did not feel like the generic blockbuster film I thought it was going to be.
Overall, I didn’t love the film, but there is so much to admire about it. Washington was as good as he ever was, while Dakota Fanning was just perfect as the catalyst that set him off on that dark, dangerous path. And, in my book, Man on Fire gave me yet another reason why I’m going to miss Tony Scott.