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Man on Fire

People at TBBS have raved over Dakota Fanning and having now seen Man on Fire I can see why. There is an intelligence behind her eyes that's very reminiscent of a young Jodie Foster. An old soul and prodigious talent in a young, cherubic face. Hopefully she'll have the same post-adolescent success Foster has had (only without, you know, the presidential assassin stalker types). Fanning is the heart of this story and it's hard to see it working as well as it does with someone less accomplished in the role. In fact while she's on screen the film works. When she's not, the movie reverts to type.

The trajectory of the story is predictable: tormented alcoholic warrior redeemed by innocent young girl, although the timing of this arc wasn't quite what I expected. Denzel Washington's character Creasy finds himself in the first act whereas he really should have done so in the third (even if it makes the film more predictable). This accelerated development does the character no favours because it relegates his growth to a mere plot device, that of supplying "motivation" for the killing spree that is to come.

After the kidnapping the film veers sharply away from the character focus that occupied its first 50 minutes and becomes, to its detriment, a sadistic revenge fantasy. The low points are when Creasy and Christopher Walken's character make those casually vicious macho action hero quips. Paraphrasing: "Creasy is an artist of death. He's about to paint his masterpiece" or "Forgiveness is between man and God. I'm about to arrange the meeting."

I noted with dispassion that Creasy never - quite - crosses the line established within the film's internal morality. In other words, while he tortures and kills a dozen men, there are some people who (barely) escape his wrath. It keeps the character likeable enough for the not unexpected final twist to work. The ending, though predictable, is not without emotional impact.

Being a Scott film the textures on screen are nicely visceral, but Tony Scott shoots the movie in that self-congratulatory music video style that's been so trendy for the past few years. Ihis really works against the film. The smirky use of subtitles is especially annoying. A more traditional direction could have heightened the drama and tension more. But then I guess stylistically Tony Scott would start to resemble his brother too much.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 10, 2005 3:36 PM.

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