Man on Fire, the newest in a recent string of revenge-themed films, Denzel Washington is at his best as he commands his role and the picture.
But contrary to its competitors, Man on Fire delivers in terms of both an action movie and a good character drama as well.
Mexico City is the kidnapping capital of the world. With this tidbit of knowledge, our film begins. The camera pans across the gorgeous historical treasures of the city and its notorious shantytowns. A former military operative and a drunk who is down on his luck, and looking for work to keep his demons from driving him insane, goes to see a friend about a job as a bodyguard.
Then we are introduced to Denzel’s character, John Creasy. Since 24 kidnappings occurred in the last four days, he is hired by the wealthy Ramos family to protect their daughter.
Their 9-year-old daughter, Pita, is played perfectly by the adorable and wise-beyond her years Dakota Fanning.
After months of trying, Pita finally is able to cultivate a relationship with the secluded Creasy, and their chemistry really begins to blossom. He becomes her everything: bodyguard, father, brother and best friend. This chemistry that Washington and Fanning are able to put together is the main reason the movie is so enjoyable.
Just as it seems things can’t get any better, Creasy is brutally gunned-down outside Pita’s piano lesson, and in the melee, she finds herself a victim of one of the notorious kidnappings.
Creasy, after recovering from his wounds and the suspicion of killing two police officers during the kidnapping, makes it his mission to punish those responsible. He sheds his human qualities and becomes what he has tried so hard to forget – a killer.
The journey he embarks upon takes him places where his compassion as well as drive is tested, and Washington continues to command the screen.
The way Denzel seems to get into his roles, it’s almost as if he leaves all his baggage behind and makes it his goal to become the man he is portraying. He does a wonderful job of showing us both the tortured soul of this alcoholic and former assassin, but also his propensity to love, and desire to be loved in return.
Dakota Fanning, who was also magnificent in I Am Sam, opposite Sean Penn, is such a likable force that we can’t help but adore her. She has more acting talent at nine than some do at twice her age.
Strong appearances by Christopher Walken, Marc Anthony and Mickey Rourke round out the movie as the best I have seen this year.
Maybe it is true that Denzel Washington can make even the most lackluster of a script seem intriguing, but thankfully here he has a good story and even better talent to work with than in some previous ventures.
This is one of the most visually appealing films with the most solid plot that has come out this year.
Ross Bercik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org