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BY ADAM WAJNBERG
& DAVID BLUMENSTEIN
AUGUST 3, 2004
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My main problem with Man on Fire is the enormous amount
of work that went into it. Director Tony Scott had apparently read
the original book by A.J Quinnell some 20 years ago, but got sidetracked
polluting cinemas with shit like Top Gun and The Last Boy Scout. It
boggles the mind to think that all this time, he was just building
up steam to make this very painful and clichéd film.
For those that need to know, the film is about a grizzled
ex-CIA operative named Creasey (Washington) who is grizzled and drinks
whiskey to escape his grizzlededness but it makes him only more grizzled.
He's also bearded. He gets a job protecting the family of failing
Mexican businessman, Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony). He cleans up and
forgets his grizzleditude by becoming emotionally attached to his
young charge, Pita (Pita?), played by the very charming Dakota Fanning.
Then Pita gets kidnapped (which the hard-on-the-eyes intro makes known
is a common occurrence in Mexico City) and Creasey kills everyone
involved. Because, as his buddy Rayburn (Christopher Walken, looking
very grey) puts it, "Creasey's art is death
and he's about
to paint his masterpiece".
Yes! There are lots of big, stupid lines like that said
by intense actors, intensely. The characters are so stiff and unlovable
that it makes you want to go out and buy cheeseburgers, because if
you have to live on a planet with people that cold, you may as well
eat a lot of cheeseburgers.
That being said, the movie has 4 or 5 good bits, and
they pretty much all revolve around the very short friendship of Creasey
and Pita. Fanning is wise beyond her years, but not in a way that
makes you want to puke. She emotes far more convincingly than the
actors playing her parents (Marc Anthony and Radha Mitchell, who look
like underwear models) and her moments with Washington will put a
smile on your face. As for Washington - big smacks for mugging for
the camera in a way that would make even Mel Gibson blush.
But beyond the mess of a script and the clichéd
situations lies a bigger problem- the film looks shocking. Scott uses
"stylish" camera tricks so much that the whole thing looks
like one big commercial for Captain Shit's School of Lame Directional
Techniques. Jump cuts, speeded up montages, light changes, color saturation,
pop-up subtitles for words spoken IN ENGLISH - Scott has no shame
in using every type of intrusive camera cocksuckery to divert attention
away from the (bad) story. This film also goes for nearly 2 ½
hours, and has the type of ending that makes the first part of this
sentence all the more painful.
So, if you don't mind a headache and a sore ass with
nothing to show for it, then by all means, see Man on Fire. But keep
in mind that $14 will buy you at least 6 or 7 cheeseburgers.
I have not seen MAN ON FIRE. I just wanted to argue
Mr. Wajnberg's statement "that $14 will buy you at least 6 or
Presumably Mr. Wajnberg is referring to McDonald's cheeseburgers,
widely assumed to be the cheapest generally available cheeseburger
(currently $1.75), and considered the industry standard in ingredients
and packaging, if not taste.
However, my point is that while it may be possible to
purchase this number of McDonald's cheeseburgers, those cheeseburgers
would not necessarily be more satisfying than having watched MAN ON
FIRE. One would be far better off purchasing one or two cheeseburgers
with the $14, which would doubtlessly be more tasty than 6 0r 7 McDonald's
cheeseburgers, or, indeed, MAN ON FIRE.
I also wanted to mention that the gherkin in McDonald's
cheeseburgers is the best part and it's disgraceful the way children
always throw them against the window.
MAN ON FIRE stars Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning,
Christopher Walken, Marc Anthony & Radha Mitchell. Its rating
is yet to be confirmed. In general release August 5.