Running Time: 146 mins.
Creasey (Washington) is a former Marine commando who has several skeletons in his closet. Haunted by battle memories, a failed marriage and alcohol abuse, he gets a job as a body guard for the Balleto family in Mexico City.
The Ballettos are scared. Several other Mexican dynasties have had children kidnapped and ransomed. Creasy has to look after Pinta Balletto (Fanning). Soon enough she is snatched from the street. Creasy is shot during the battle and almost dies. The police cannot find her, the ransom demands keep coming, and as soon as he can walk Creasy hits the revenge trail.
Man on Fire addresses a very serious situation throughout Central America. Children have become pawns in the power struggle between criminals who families who, it is alleged, are involved in money laundering, gun running or drugs. This is a violent world and so is this film.
Be warned. This film is not the usual goodies chasing the baddies saga. There are two graphic scenes where Creasy tortures his victims for information about Pinta's whereabouts. These moments are almost unbearable to watch.
Dakota Fanning gets the opportunity to show her brilliant dramatic range in this film, with poise well beyond her years. Denzel Washington puts in a credible performance, although his initial brooding wears thin because director Tony Scott takes so long to set up the crime we know will happen. At nearly two and half hours, Scott's film would have been much stronger if he had cut to the chase earlier - literarily.
There are a few other plot contrivances that stretch the imagination, or at least needed greater explanation, like how Creasy who is under arrest and armed guard in hospital gets out of their so easily. But Scott, cinematographer Paul Cameron and editor Christian Wagner have delivered a very stylish looking film.
While Man of Fire never glamourises the evil it explores, screenwriter Brian Helgeland invokes Romans 12:21 as a justification for a spree of revenge. I don't think so. He also abuses the devotion to St Jude and turns it into a superstition for the wicked.
Appropriate enough for Mexico, when the crime boss is discovered he is found praying amidst his crucifixes and icons. But his crime is so unspeakable, it's hard to see how any expiation in this life could free him from his guilt. Thank goodness condemnation rests with God alone.
Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the Director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.