Man on Fire [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (27th January 2008).
The Film

One of the most disappointing movie-going experiences I've ever had was in 2004 when I saw "The Punisher", from all the press leading up to the film's release it looked like a promising film. The trailer did what it was supposed to do, tease the audience with some money shots, Thomas Jane looked the part and the director was featured in interview after interview talking about how he loved the character and wanted to make this film for a long time. All indications were that it would be a pretty cool flick, after all the most successful Marvel films attached directors that loved and knew the source material (The "Spider-man" (2002-2007) films are an obvious one). But after watching the film I quickly realized this director screwed up, aside from the look of the character and the basis of his origin everything else felt wrong. From the script to John Travolta to setting the film in sunny Florida, there was little 'punishing' in the film and when there was it was as exciting or dramatic as I'd expected. You might be asking yourself at this point in the review, 'What the hell does "The Punisher" have to do with "Man on Fire"?', well, "Man on Fire" was what "The Punisher" [u>should[/u> have been.

Tony Scott's revenge opus totally understands the mechanics of vengeance and allowing the acts of violence to unfold in an exciting manner while keeping the main focus on the character's and their relationships. The Character of Creasy is in effect similar to Frank Castle, both lost a loved one (in Castle's case it was his family, while Creasy it was a little girl he was supposed to protect), Creasy is an alcoholic with a dark past and Creasy stops at nothing to inflict his vengeance on those involved in the kidnapping of little Pita. The tone of the film is dark and the themes of redemption and purpose that highlight Creasy's journey are pivotal to his motivations. "The Punisher" was supposed to be good revenge film, it failed...but where it fails "Man on Fire" succeeds and leaves you totally speechless the majority of the time.

"Man on Fire" tells the story of John Creasy (Denzel Washington), an alcoholic government trained ex-assassin with a dark past reluctantly takes a job in Mexico City to be the bodyguard and driver for a prominent family, the Ramos'. His task is to look after their daughter, Pita (Dakota Fanning). Initially distant, Creasy soon forms a bond with the little girl, when one day while taking her to her piano lesion, she's kidnapped. The kidnappers want money and when the drop goes wrong Pita is assumed dead. Not letting that act stand, Creasy attempts to hunt down and kill everyone responsible for this act and in the process uncovers who really was behind the kidnapping.

The first thing you notice about this film is that it doesn't look like you're typical action film, the style of the film is rather flashy, using quick-cuts, double exposures, flashes, pop-up subtitles that put an emphasis on some information, etc, matched with music that appears rather manipulative. It's a style that can at times be headache inducing, Scott has spent his career developing and crafting a unique look for his films. This music-video-hyper-real look was used to good effect in his BMW short film "Beat the Devil" (2002), the look stuck two years later with "Man on Fire"...only to abuse it a year after that with "Domino" (2005). The look of the film give it a raw brutality, but it's an acquired taste as it may be a little too flashy for its own good and can put off some people.

"Man on Fire" is clearly not like most action/revenge films, it doesn't fit the typical Hollywood mold and the script allows the character's relationship to develop within a realistic (although long) time frame, in fact for the first hour it's all about Creasy and Pita, this grounds the film's more violent moments as it believably provides the motivation necessary for Creasy to deliver his brand of justice.

If you're interested in immediate-check-your-brain-at-the-door action then this is not for you as it does involve you more so in the characters and the action and violence is almost secondary. Denzel Washington always impresses as he seems to challenge himself with different roles not sticking to any Hollywood leading man template, here he teams up again with Scott and excellently plays the 'lost soul' character that is Creasy with a vigour and approach that only a profession of his calibre can deliver. Equally impressive is Dakota Fanning, who since her breakout role in 2001's "I Am Sam" has continually delivered some quality work among some of Hollywood's leading stars and she goes toe-to-toe with them delivering on each scene. She's one of those rare gifts that manifest itself in a child who seems to possess maturity well beyond her years. These two are the main focus here, although there are some fine supporting performances from Marc Anthony, Radha Mitchell and Giancarlo Giannini, while Christopher Walken sleep-walks though his role basically playing the same character he's played over his entire career and he even gets to deliver another 'monologue' in a style that we've seen over and over again.

There's a lot to like about "Man on Fire", it's intense, it features fine performances, a collection of exciting scenes of retribution, the story is engrossing and immerses the viewer, but it does have its flaws. The most annoying of which is related to the film's ending. If you haven't seen the film before I suggest you stop reading as we're about to enter spoiler territory. I could never understand why Creasy gave himself up? After all he had both the brother and pregnant wife of 'The Voice', he could have used them both as trading tools for Pita instead of himself and the brother. This elf sacrifice made no sense considering how much he cared for Pita. Then there's the matter of why he didn't kill the men whom he agreed to give himself up to, I half expected Creasy to have hidden a bomb (a popular ending which was shot but never used). After repeated viewings I got used to the ending, but it still doesn't feel right.

The flashy style can be distracting as well, I've seen this film many times so it's not hard for me to follow but I can see how you'd need repeated viewings to get the whole story. And, while the film does establish the relationships well, it's still a stretch for most audiences at 146 minutes and if you're not into violent films or revenge films then perhaps give this a miss. For those that have seen it and loved it and own a Blu-ray player you might consider picking this up. For those that haven't seen it, it's worth a rental first.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical widescreen ratio of 2.40:1 this high-definition transfer is presented in 1080p 24/fps and has been created using AVC MPEG-4 compression. The film's look is rendered very well in this presentation highlighting the bright greens and oranges; in fact all colors appear lush and vibrant. The image is sharp and finely detailed, right down to skin textures and beads of sweat that run down the actor's faces. Blacks are bold but appear a bit crushed, grain is high at times but this intentional. The film looked very good on DVD and it looks even better here, I was pleased with the overall image quality, the print also appears clean of any dirt or specks, edge-enhancement or compression related issues.

Audio

Three audio tracks are presented on this release, an English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, as well as standard Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French and Spanish. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD track, this film includes a rather active sound mix; it pumps out its soundtrack aggressively using every channel including a powerful bass track. Dialogue is clear and distortion free, ambient sounds are represented here naturally adding depth to the track. The range is impressive going from soft poignant moments to sheer carnage with bullet hits and explosions that rumble. This is a great track that fully immerses the viewer, and remains one of the best DTS-HD tracks I've heard on this format.

Optional subtitles are included in English, Cantonese, Korean and Spanish.

Extras

The only extras that Fox has seen fit to include on this release is the film's theatrical trailer and a collection of bonus trailers, none of the excellent extras seen on the 2-disc DVD release have been ported over and that's a huge disappointment.

First up is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 54 seconds.

The disc also includes bonus trailers for:

- "The Sentinel" which runs for 2 minutes 1 second.
- "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" which runs for 2 minutes 27 seconds.
- "Entrapment" which runs for 1 minute 59 seconds.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: A+ Extras: F Overall: C+

 


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