Man On Fire

"He's an artist of death," says former mercenary Rayburn (Christopher Walken) of his friend John Creasy (Denzel Washington), "and he's about to paint his masterpiece. I really don't have anything else to say." Only Walken can say that much without sounding like a complete ass, and he's on shaky ground in director Tony Scott's do-over of pseudonymous novelist...read more

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"He's an artist of death," says former mercenary Rayburn (Christopher Walken) of his friend John Creasy (Denzel Washington), "and he's about to paint his masterpiece. I really don't have anything else to say." Only Walken can say that much without sounding like a complete ass, and he's on shaky ground in director Tony Scott's do-over of pseudonymous novelist A.J. Quinnell's gloomy story of righteous retribution, which he hoped to adapt back in the mid-1980s but lost to a then more-bankable filmmaker. Hollowed out by corrosive guilt, alcoholic former U.S. military operative Creasy drifts to crime-ridden Mexico City to visit Rayburn, who has crawled out from under his own brutal past and forged a new life pandering to the fears of foreign business people. Rayburn turns Creasy on to what promises to be a not-too-demanding gig: High-strung Mexican businessman Sammy Ramos (Marc Anthony) and his steely American wife (Radha Mitchell) need a bodyguard for their 9-year-old daughter, Pita (Dakota Fanning). Ramos doesn't want top-of-the-line personal protection, just someone who looks the part and will convince both Lisa and kidnapping-insurance underwriters that he's doing his part to protect Pita. Taciturn, tormented and suicidal, Creasy is an uneasy fit for a job that's equal parts junkyard dog and baby-sitter to an inquisitive, lonely girl whose preoccupied parents have little time for her. But Pita's cute-as-a-bug precocity penetrates his emotional armor and warms his frozen heart. So when kidnappers do come, Creasy nearly dies trying to protect Pita. Having failed, he reverts to soulless-killing-machine mode and resolves to track down and do away with every single person who had anything to do with the child's abduction, no matter where the trail of greed and perfidy leads. Scott swaddles this fundamentally straightforward revenge story in a jumble of bleary freeze frames, random changes of color saturation and film stock, jump cuts and stuttering montages, splashing text from some menacing word soup onto the resulting collage of chicly disturbing images. Transplanting the story from Italy to Mexico has the probably unintentional but undeniable effect of playing into to prejudices about straight-up Americans mired in the muck of Latin corruption, and Scott can't leave a thematic underpinning under anything. If Creasy is haunted by the belief that he's an unforgivable sinner, then by God, Scott submerges him in a swirl of nuns, shrines, Bibles, devotional candles and medals devoted to Saint Jude of the lost cause. And in the end, he cares too much about stylishness to let the festering ugliness of true vigilantism stain his carefully art-directed mise-en-scene.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: "He's an artist of death," says former mercenary Rayburn (Christopher Walken) of his friend John Creasy (Denzel Washington), "and he's about to paint his masterpiece. I really don't have anything else to say." Only Walken can say that much without sounding… (more)

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