I love revenge movies and revenge tales in general. “The Count of Monte Cristo” is one of my favorite books of all time. When movies like “Man on Fire” come along, I become quite the fan. Let’s be specific; I’m talking about the 2004 film, not the 1987 version. To be fair, I’ve never seen the 87 version or read the book. In fact, until recently, I didn’t know another movie or book existed. They are currently on my shortlist to follow up with my recent rewatch of “Man on Fire.”
I originally saw “Man on Fire” when it was released at the grand age of 14. After a recent rewatch, it cemented itself as one of my favorite films. As an adult, I picked up and understood a fair bit more than my original watch.
Man On Fire — Rebirth and Revenge
The film follows a man named John Creasy. He’s visiting an old friend and is seemingly lost in life. He’s a former CIA Special Activities Division operator as well as a Force Recon Captian, according to his briefly shown resume. Regretful of the things he did throughout that career, he’s a heavy drinker and often rides a line of deep depression with suicidal tendencies.
With no mission and no work, his friend and fellow CIA member Pay Rayburn (Christopher Walken) sets him up with a bodyguard position. The film takes place in Mexico City, which has been hit with a wave of kidnappings. It’s not randomized and exists as a form of organized crime that depends on kidnapping insurance to function.
A rich family’s policy is at risk of lapsing if they do not hire a new bodyguard, and Creasy’s expansive resume, with his relatively low pay, makes him a desirable candidate. When asked why the pay is low for such a resume, he admits he’s a drinker, and his pay is commiserate with his performance.
His ward is a young girl named Lupita, or Pita for short. She’s tenacious and curious and asks way too many questions. While at first Creasy is annoyed, he later warms up to the girl and aids her in becoming a better competition swimmer. She brings light into his life and gives him a reason to live.
Best Served Cold
Pita is kidnapped by professionals. Creasy fights bravely, killing several of the men, but is shot several times himself. When he trained her to be a better swimmer, he taught her to move at the sound of the starter pistol and not fear it. There is a great callback when the kidnappers spring their attack. She freezes, but Creasy fires his gun into the air to get her to move.
While Creasy heals, the family, their lawyer, and the police negotiate a ransom. Things go wrong, the drop is ambushed, and the kidnapper tells the family it’s too late. The kidnapper’s nephew was killed, and in retaliation, Pita was murdered.
Creasy then swears to get revenge on everyone who was involved and everyone who profited. He’s done drinking, and he arms himself and uses his skills as a Marine and SAD/SOG operator to get his revenge. The movie becomes deeply satisfying as Creasy wreaks havoc across an entire organization. He ambushes, infiltrates, and uses superior tactics to get his revenge. He has no mercy on the kidnappers and their network.
Beyond the Plot
The performance from everyone involved is rock solid. Denzel Washington is as effortlessly cool and authoritative as Creasy. It’s believable that he’s capable of doing what he does. He’s never portrayed as Superman. He’s just smarter than his enemies. It’s a grounded action flick that’s rare in an age of “John Wick” and Marvel movies.
The performances from Walken, Radha Mitchell, Marc Anthony, and Rachel Ticotin are all fantastic. Mitchell’s scene of heartbreak is entirely believable, and her later rage is understandable. Mickey Rourke plays a scummy lawyer to perfection, and the Voice as the mysterious bad guy seems quite capable himself.
My problem with the film is that Tony Scott’s all over it. It’s directed well, but the odd visuals Tony Scott uses gets insufferable. It’s novel a time or too and works for some scenes but is overused throughout the film. It has that early 2000’s blue tint all over it. I will credit the set design. The sets really work, from the clean offices and homes of the rich to the grimy streets of the Mexican underworld.
As mentioned, most of the action is grounded. In the kidnapping firefight, Creasy’s superior training and use of cover allow him to gun down several attackers, but he’s not Superman. He gets shot, and he goes down. He fights as long as he can but is nearly killed himself.
Later on, he uses smart tactics to ambush his enemies, take them hostage, and interrogates them. Creasy has no qualms about execution or torture. He works his way up the line through intelligence and very dark methods. His ambushes range from a handgun to your head to an RPG hitting your motorcade.
It’s got great scenes, but none are very unbelievable, or at least too unbelievable. This is especially true when we consider Creasy’s level of training.
While the Glock 34 is a fairly popular choice these days for duty work, I don’t think this was the case in 2004. Creasy was ahead of the curb and wielded a Glock 34 as his weapon of choice while acting as Pita’s bodyguard. He wields it well and kills four of the kidnappers before losing consciousness from his wounds. His draw is solid as he clears his cover garment and places his support hand on his chest.
Later on, Creasy purchases a black market arsenal. It consists of a variety of handguns, including several 1911s, a Hi-Power, a Glock, an M3 Grease Gun, a double-barrel shotgun, and even a Chinese-made RPG. We see him use the Glock and M1911s and the RPG quite a bit. Sadly the Grease Gun doesn’t get any action. The double barrel shotguns get their barrels trimmed and become a close-range meat tenderizer. The RPG is vital to an ambush during Creasy’s personal jihad.
Throughout the film, we see an arsenal of pistols in use by numerous sources. From Beretta 92s to S&W Model 15s. There isn’t anything too crazy or unbelievable being used by cartels or cops. It’s certainly grounded in both weapons and action.
Burn It Down
“Man On Fire” is the type of action film we don’t get anymore. It’s grounded, and the action isn’t over the top or insane. It’s an action flick with a purpose and plot that’s intriguing with twists and turns. As much as I love over-the-top films, I also enjoy films like this, and I feel they aren’t made often enough anymore. Any other “Man on Fire” fans?