Christian Movie Interviews, News and Reviews

"Man on Fire" - Movie Review

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2004 23 Apr
"Man on Fire" - Movie Review

Release Date:  April 23, 2004
Rating:  R (for language and strong violence)
Genre:  Action/Drama/Thriller
Run Time: 2 hrs. 30 min.
Director:  Tony Scott
Actors: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Marc Anthony, Radha Mitchell, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Giannini, Rachel Ticotin, Jesus Ochoa, Mickey Rourke

Every 60 minutes someone is kidnapped in Latin America, and 70 percent of the victims do not survive. These are the opening lines to the film, “Man on Fire.” Along with grisly images of kidnapping, torture and execution, they certainly set the tone for Denzel Washington’s gripping new film. Despite the horrific violence, however, the movie also offers a story about sacrificial, Christ-like love.

Walter Creasy (Washington) is a retired special operations assassin who handled covert counter terrorism for the government. An alcoholic with no family and no hope, Creasy is living in Mexico City with little to do but drink. Because of the extraordinarily high incidence of kidnappings there, wealthy families are forced to hire bodyguards – not only to protect their children, but to satisfy the requirements for kidnapping insurance.

"Man on Fire"

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Samuel (Marc Anthony) is struggling to survive financially, but needs a bodyguard to renew his policy. When Creasy’s old friend Rayburn (Christopher Walken) proposes Creasy’s services to Samuel for cheap, Creasy is skeptical, but accepts the job. He tells Samuel that his senses are dulled because of his drinking, however, and that should a kidnapping happen, he will do what he can – nothing more.

Creasy’s protégé is a little girl by the name of Pita (Dakota Fanning), who tries gamely to become friends with her new protector. Locked in a world of flashbacks and booze, Creasy refuses. Soon, however, Pita’s charm cuts through Creasy’s walls of loneliness, and he becomes her biggest ally, even helping the young girl to win her first swim meet. In turn, she gives Creasy a reason to live again. The inevitable kidnapping does happen, of course, stripping Creasy of his newly-found hope. After it becomes apparent that the local police are connected to the kidnappings, Creasy reverts to his old ways. He sets out to kill each and every one of the people involved.

The quality of this film is top-notch, with excellent acting, a fast-paced plot and haunting cinematography that relies on deep grays and blues to convey the sordidness of the story. The violence, however, is shocking, and not to be discounted. Not only are the opening scenes very disturbing, but the actual kidnapping – and especially Creasy’s revenge spree – are horrifyingly graphic. Although there is use of camera “cutaways,” it is still very grisly. We see people shot at close range, fingers and ears sliced off, throats that have been slit, suicide and lots of blood. I winced and looked away from the screen more than once. Even without the language (more than a dozen f— words, among others), this movie is not for the faint of heart.

The message – that we cannot count on the authorities to help us and that sometimes vigilante justice is our only recourse – is also disturbing. The film will probably be criticized for not being “politically correct” in its portrayal of Mexico. You cannot help but feel terror at the thought of ever setting foot in Latin America, much less living there. It is painted as a dark, evil place that is brimming with corruption and violence. But, if the statistics are correct, there is every reason to be wary.

When Creasy takes matters into his own hands, therefore, tracking down and murdering all the villains, we are asked to not only accept this as moral but even cheer him on. Of course, it is hard not to, given the circumstances. But, as believers, we cannot ever allow ourselves to buy into that mindset. No matter how “natural” such a response may feel – and how evil the world may become – vengeance is not ours to claim.

Surprising and refreshing is “Man of Fire”'s positive portrayal of Christianity. Although some will feel uncomfortable with the film’s Catholic representations (altars with candles and icons), the message about faith in God is clear. Creasy reads his Bible and, when asked if it helps, answers wryly, “Sometimes.” Later, Samuel’s wife borrows the Bible and admits that is helping her. A nun at Pita’s school is portrayed as kind and good. What a rarity that is for a Hollywood film. And the ending is a strong parallel to the kind of love that Christ showed us on the cross. It is beautifully, though tragically, redemptive.

At the beginning of the movie, Rayburn asks, “Do you think God will forgive us for what we have done?” “No,” answers Creasy, to which Rayburn agrees. One can only hope that Creasy found the real answer – that through Jesus Christ, there is forgiveness for all crimes – while reading that Bible of his.