Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Man On Fire

Creasy (Denzel Washington) is a former CIA assassin well past his prime, broken and consumed with regret as well as a self admitted drunk. His old friend from the CIA, Rayburn (Christopher Walken) has a bodyguard job lined up for him in Mexico City. Creasy has doubts about his own ability, given his drinking problem and general condition, but Rayburn assures him that "even at half speed,  you're pretty damn good."

Creasy needs the money and something to do and the client, Samuel Ramos (Mark Anthony) needs a bodyguard at a discount in order to renew his kidnapping insurance and keep his wife happy where they live and his daughter in the same school (they'll lose the house without the insurance) His business is in trouble but Samuel is scrambling not to lose what they have.

On first meeting Samuel, Creasy is upfront about his drinking problem. How does it affect you he asks, to which Creasy responds:
Creasy: Coordination, reaction time. Top professionals try to kidnap your daughter I'll do the best I can but the service will be on par with the pay.
Samuel: What if amatuers try?
Creasy: I'd probably kill 'em. That likely?

Samuel seems fine with it as long as his family doesn't know about Creasy's problem.

Creasey's job is to guard Pita (Dakota Fanning) and Lisa (Radha Mitchell) Samuel's daughter and wife. Lisa likes the fact that he's an American like her and Pita is immediately taken with him. Pita is very precocious and likes that Creasy asks her to just call him Creasy and not Mr. Creasy. Pita shows Creasy to his room . Once left alone, he quickly starts drinking and sets a caged bird they've kept there free when it won't stop squawking. He also regularly reads his Bible, remarking when asked about it that it "sometimes helps."

Part of his routine is to drive Pita to her Catholic School. During the ride, Pita asks a lot of questions, which he brusquely rebuffs, having no desire to get attached to the girl.  One of the nuns tells him, he's late and Creasy responds politely, revealing in Spanish his familiarity with the Bible:
Sister Ana: Do you ever see the Hand of God in what you do?
Creasy: No, not for a long time.
Sister Anna: The Bible says, "Do not be over come with evil, but overcome...?
Creasy: But overcome evil with good."
Creasy: [in spanish] That's Romans Chapter 12 Verse 21.
Creasy: I am the sheep that got lost, Madre.

On the ride home, Pita starts questioning him again, relentlessly this time, even calling him out when he lies about an injury. The personal questioning combined with a frustrating city traffic situation, pushes Creasy until he lashes out, sternly telling her that he's her bodyguard, not her friend. Pita is clearly hurt by this, but makes a point of telling Creasy that she's not crying about it. Lisa confronts him about the situation later on but he sticks to the position that his job is strictly protection.
He starts drinking again and it becomes clear that he's tormented by memories of what he and Rayburn had done in the past. A question he'd asked Rayburn at the beginning echoes through his head "Do you think God will forgive us for what we've done?" He's so tormented that he attempts to kill himself by shooting himself in the head, but the gun doesn't work. He is so puzzled by this that he calls Rayburn about it. Rayburn tells him that it's probably the firing pin.

There is little talking while driving Pita to school the next day, this time with Lisa along for the ride. Creasy picks her up from swimming in the afternoon and they begin talking about her swimming, which Creasy gives her some advice about, noticing that she loses time when pushing off.  Pita notices that the bird is gone and asks him about it, figuring he wanted it to be free. Creasy rebuffs the explanation, and says it was only because it was driving him crazy.

Creasy starts helping with her swimming, noticing that her main problem is that the starting gunshot startles her. He claps wooden blocks together loudly and has her yell "The gunshot holds no fear" They start bonding as Creasy helps her with her swimming and her homework, clearly dropping his "professional" facade and enjoying helping her. Lisa notices his new friendliness and clearly approves. Pita's swimming improves dramatically. He takes her to a swim meet and is clearly excited for her when she wins for the first time even allowing a hug.

Creasy takes Pita with him to a lunch with Rayburn, where conversation reveals that Rayburn stopped working with him when he met a girl in Mexico City. Pita gives Creasy a locket of St. Jude, in her words, "the patron saint of lost causes" which he accepts.

At home, Pita tells her father she wants to give up piano, so she can swim all the time, but he won't let her, because he claims her piano teacher is very prestigious. She complains to Creasy, telling him he should break her fingers, because then she couldn't play but could still swim. Creasy suggests that she just starts belching during the lesson, which will be sure to offend him enough to stop her lessons. Creasy waits outside as she takes her lesson and notices suspicious activity outside just before the end of it. Several cars, including police cars are waiting to abduct Pita as she exits the building. Creasy gets in a shootout with the abductors, killing many of them while telling Pita to run on his gunshot. She can't leave Creasy though, and when she comes back to check on him, the abductors grab her.

Creasy is arrested at the hospital for killing the corrupt police officers involved in the kidnapping and possible involvement in the act itself. The department gives no explanation for their involvement or presence at the scene only saying that "they died bravely." Mariana (Rachel Ticotin) a reporter, and Manzano (Giancarlo Giannini) a detective with some rank and connections, clearly know what happened and aren't satisfied with the department's actions.

Samuel's attorney Jordan (Mickey Rourke) takes charge of ransom negotiations, and seems upset that the police anti kidnapping unit insist on being involved. Rayburn and Miguel visit Creasy at the hospital. Rayburn tells him he's been out for two days and they're negotiating. The kidnappers demand 10 million dollars with specific drop off demands. Jordann starts talking to the kidnappers instead of Samuel. Miguel makes arrangements to move Creasy from the hospital, knowing that other corrupt cops will likely have him killed before he leaves. Samuel messes up the drop off and the kidnappers tell them it's too late for their daughter.

Creasy recovers at Rayburn's place. Rayburn fills him in on the botched exchange and that they assume Pita is dead. Miguel goes over mug shots with Creasy while he's laid up and when Creasy suggests he show him pictures of cops. Miguel tells him about the corrupt brotherhood that was involved. When he's able to walk Rayburn offers to get Creasy out of the country, but Creasy wants to return to the kidnap scene. Mariana  the reporter, meets him there and offers to help him, again informing him of the corrupt and untouchable brotherhood that she also believes is behind the kidnapping. She wants to expose them but can't get close enough. She offers to help him in return for what he digs up.

Rayburn again offers to get him out of the country, but Creasy is determined to get to the kidnappers. Rayburn reminds him that he's done killing but agrees to help however he can. Creasy returns to the house to look through Pita's things for clues. He runs into Lisa and claims he was looking for his Bible, which she says she borrowed. She is still devastated of course. And Creasy informs her that he plans to kill everyone remotely involved, telling her: "I'm gonna kill 'em. Anyone that was involved. Anybody who profited from it. Anybody who opens their eyes at me."

Rayburn sets up an arsenal and Creasy asks Mariana to trace a plate for him. Using the information, Creasy tracks down the first of his targets from the kidnapping. He sets up an elaborate torture to get information from the kidnapper, threatening to cut off his fingers one by one each time he lies, stopping the bleeding with a car lighter. When the kidnapper brags about being part of the brotherhood Creasy takes off a finger just to let him know he doesn't care. The kidnapper tells him exactly how their operation works and tells him about "The Voice" which gives them their orders and "The Guardians" who they delivered Pita to. Once he gets the information Creasy tells him "off to the next life for you. I guarantee you won't be lonely."

Creasy continues picking off targets and acquiring information while Miguel and Mariana keep track of his progress after the fact. He discovers that the cops in the anti kidnapping unit were also involved. Creasy recovers another kidnapped girl, turning her over to Mariana, and blows up one of the brotherhoods's clubs. Mariana continues to help Creasy with information in exchange for the story as it develops. Manzano and Rayburn talk meanwhile, as Manzano is concerned that Creasy is stepping on his territory. Rayburn fills him in about Creasy and the real situation:

Creasy soon discovers that the problem is even deeper than he thought, extending to Jordan the lawyer and finally to Samuel himself, who arranged the kidnapping to save his business. He confronts Samuel about it, revealing to Lisa in the process, that Samuel and Jordan set it up. Rather than kill him, Creasy gives Samuel the bullet that failed to kill him in his earlier suicide attempt. This time the bullet works. Manzana locates the voice, giving Mariana a picture of him, which she publishes in the paper despite an attack and death threat. Creasy tracks down the voices family but is shot again. His blood loss clearly begins affecting him as he takes the Voice's family hostage to force him to show himself. The Voice reveals that Pita is not dead, and offers to give up Pita in return for his brother and Creasy's lives.
Creasy changes plans now and sets up a trade, his own life and the Voice's brother for Pita. He informs Lisa where the trade will occur and she meets him there. He sets up the exchange, giving himself up for Pita, his blood loss by now making it difficult to even move. 
Man on Fire is an engrossing film, part character study, part revenge thriller, and finally a redemption story. The acting is solid all around, Denzel Washington making Creasy's lost man believable. He comes across as tortured without overplaying it even when pushing it to extremes. Walken is of course, terrific, if more subdued than usual, his very presence implying depth despite his relatively small role. Dakota Fanning gives her character enough depth to avoid feeling like a shallow play for the heartstrings. It's the believability of the relationship between Creasy and Pita that makes the film compelling. You may find the action a bit much with some graphic torture scenes, but these aren't so unbelievable for an ex cia assassin, and not graphic as much as implied. Tony Scott captures the lawlessness and oppression of the environment well, while giving the action scenes plenty of energy. It borders on sentimental, but due to the strong performances, I found it falling on just the right side of that border.
The only fault I could find with it is it does run a little long, but the character work is solid and the last two acts have enough action to keep you watching regardless. All in all, a touching movie about a "lost cause" that finds a last chance to do something worthwhile with himself and maybe earn his own forgiveness. Perhaps it's not quite a masterpiece, but a solid story told well enough that I cared about it and in this case, that's more than good enough.


Anonymous said...

As usual, very nice review. Although it's hard to go wrong with Denzel and Walken, I agree that the first half of the movie dragged on. I think the strength of the acting kept me going, and as you said, the relationship between Denzel and Dakota was believable. Dakota is a remarkable young actress. The second half was exciting, interesting ending.

INDBrent said...

Thanks Sweepy! Absolutely, the superb actors really make this work, lesser talent would've lost me. Dakota is truly remarkable here and Denzel and Walken are their usual gifted selves!