Man on Fire (2004)

Rating: C

Dir: Tony Scott
Star: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Radha Mitchell, Rachel Ticotin

Though given the amount of pyrotechnics here, it could also be known as Car on Fire. Or Nightclub on Fire. Or, most memorably of all, Arse on Fire: trust me, you’ll know what I mean when the scene in question occurs. Washington is Creasy, a washed-up, alcoholic former soldier, who gets a job as bodyguard to a family in Mexico City, where kidnappings are a daily occurrence. Of course, the daughter Pita pulls the taciturn Creasy out of his shell in a way we’ve seen a million times before. But, c’mon, she’s played by Dakota Fanning, and if you can resist her, your heart must be made of the finest Aberdeen granite. Then, just as his humanity is restored, the inevitable happens: she’s kidnapped. And when corrupt cops derail the attempted payoff, it’s time for Creasy to make them pay for taking away the only thing in his life he ever cared about.

If that sounds cliched, you’d be right, and I was well ahead of the movie, almost from the first scene. This might be why Scott opts for an endless array of whizz-bang visual trickery – jump cuts, hand-held camera, film stock treatment – in an effort to jazz things up. It doesn’t work. In fact, it quickly gets irritating: and since this is 145 minutes long, boy, does that leave a lot of time for said irritation. He should have had more faith in his actors: Washington is excellent, and Fanning had us contemplating a kidnapping of our own, or at least a trade for our own daughter. Left alone, their performances are strong enough to balance out the storyline and characters, which we’ve seen too often before, without help from any MTV-influenced gimmickry. Instead, the result simply taxes the brain: while normally, that’s something I’d welcome in a Hollywood movie, here, it’s just not taxing in a good way.