– Summary –
Director : Tony Scott
Year Of Release : 2004
Principal Cast : Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Radha Mitchell, Marc Anthony, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Giannini, Rachel Ticotin, Jesus Ochoa, Mickey Rourke.
Approx Running Time : 146 Minutes
Synopsis: A disgraced CIA operative hunts down the kidnappers of a young white girl in Mexico.
What we think : Filmed with enough jarring cuts and random focus pulling to destroy almost any aesthetic, Man On Fire will give you a headache long before it entertains. Avoid this one.
This headache inducing film from Tony Scott is a far cry from some of his better work, and manages to utterly trash his reputation as a director who can deliver a well constructed narrative without resorting to camera-cliches and fancy editing.
Denzel Washington stars as an ex-cop in Mexico, charged with protecting a young girl from a wealthy family. In Mexico, however, kidnapping is rife, and after a brazen attack on the car convoy when the girl is picked up from school, she’s held to ransom. Washington, feeling responsible for her safe return, starts the long and dangerous process of hunting down those who perpetrated this horrifying act.
Washingtons’ search through the seedy, brutal underworld of Mexico City is fascinating in it’s portrayal of minority groups and the destitute: unfortunately, Scott’s abuse of the viewers sense throughout the film ensure that whatever impact is hoped for, is quickly and witheringly scorched into oblivion by some of the worst possible direction you can imagine.
The film is shot like Oliver Stone did Natural Born Killers: sound and fury, with little redeeming features save the stellar performance of Washington and the young girl from I Am Sam. Edited by what appears to be some kind of lucky dip machine, and filmed by people utterly incapable of maintaining the focus of a shot, or composition of a shot, Man on Fire is a film completely devoid of any attempt to take what could have been a highly moving story and shoehorn it into an MTV clip. Scotts persistence in using a shot lasting no longer than five seconds is reminiscent of the opening twenty minutes of Moulin Rouge, although without the class behind it to ensure the story is good enough. Here, Washington and his fellow cast members are reduced to empty, hollow shells, as the films tempo and style lack the ability to allow the viewer to get to know the characters.
I deplore this style of filmmaking, this rapid-cut, lack of continuity storytelling, as a flashy, abrasive and utterly unappealing style with no cinematic credence whatsoever. The story is strong enough to ensure you watch to the very end, but just once you’d like the camera to stay still, and the editing to be not quite so frenetic. And for goodness sake, shooting something out of focus gives most people a headache!!!
Michael Bay, who has long been the cinematic whipping boy of commercial crassness and insensitive filmmaking, would be the Frank Capra of the modern age were he to be compared with Tony Scott. Tony Scott may have been borne of the same mother as Ridley, however his talent is somewhat lesser than that of his sibling. Scott’s command of the visual medium here is tiresome, lumbering and lacking a sense of occasion, content instead to rely on visual trickery, camera moves and editing to explain things: the film is less than it’s potential because you can’t tell what the hell is going on half the time.
Scott’s follow up film to this, the Keira Knightley starrer Domino, was filmed much the same way, and has the exact same effect. It’s like a giant video game you can’t control being put on a screen that you simply can’t look away from. Those with weak stomachs, or a sense of vertigo, may want to avoid Man on Fire.
Those who say I should give this film another go, should be aware that I have now had to inflict this film four times upon myself: I think I have been as fair as possible on this film’ quality, and if my statements above give rise to disagreement, then I stand by them wholeheartedly. This is a wasted story, in my opinion. The story is excellent, and the cast are truly wonderful, it’s just the style Scott shoots the film in, and edits it down to, that manages to ruin everything.
Kudos to the cast for giving their all, but aspersions have to be sent to Tony Scott for filming this movie like a music video: all sound and fury, and little technique. Out of focus doesn’t count as a technique.