With a tint of green and no control over the manic camera angles, cuts and zooms of the opening, Tony Scott presents a headache-inducing montage for the opening credits of Man on Fire. It is not a sign of things to come, thankfully, as the chemistry between Denzel Washington and Christopher Walken breaks through. A jaded, bored ex-CIA man (Washington) does not know what to do with himself. He reluctantly accepts a contract as a bodyguard for a ten-year-old girl. He is perhaps moved by the piano he hears in the background or caught up in the adrenalin of getting close to working in the field he once excelled in. Either scenario brings the same result, Man on Fire is all about a man refusing to make peace with his past.
It is the driving force of John Creasy, and the performance Washington brings to the table here is phenomenal. A film where the small moments matter, he tells Lupita Ramos (Dakota Fanning) to merely call him “Creasy”, a slight act of endearment meant to display a fatherly bond. Something he could never manage, as he is single, childless and clearly alone. Frustrated, he turns to the tropes of the genre, knocking back a glass of Jack and aiming his gun at nowhere in particular, testing he still has what the CIA thinks he lost. Scott manages this with comfortable expertise, his knowledge of the genre helps keep the pace moving tremendously. He has seemingly blended the serious tones of his past works with all the gusto he showcased in Top Gun decades before.
“Do you ever see the hand of God in what you do?” a nun asks Creasy. He replies with “No, not for a long time”. It is the formerly righteous moments that Creasy relies on to keep himself running, and Washington brings those jaded tones to life with exceptional brilliance. He is tired and professional but is instilled with the pride and commitment needed of a bodyguard and former operative. Much of Man on Fire relies on these building blocks. It is as much a drama as it is an action. Much of the first act is built as a man who is racked with regret, and Washington sells this well. It is the hook in which the audience are lured with, and it is followed by a great scene that shatters the equilibrium, makes Washington look the hero and explores the talent Scott had as an action director.
Redemption is the clear direction Man on Fire takes. It does so, but does so with a confidence and natural charisma that can be found in the ever-exceptional editing style of Scott and the always charismatic creativity of Washington. Slick dialogue is necessary to make both of these work, and Man on Fire has an abundant amount. It is filled with the action quips that make action films a treat to watch. “It’s off to the next life for you. I guarantee you won’t be lonely.” Creasy quips as he offs another henchman, and with timely delivery from Washington, Man on Fire comes across as very cool indeed.