Sunday, 14 October 2018

Man on Fire

This 2004 outing really wasn’t my kind of film, but as it was recommended I thought I’d have a go. I feel like I need my 99p back!

Problems include the annoying hand-held camera-work, the irritating editing technique of flashing lights, leaping between camera viewpoints rapidly, inserting text across the screen reflecting the dialogue (even when spoken in English), the hour-long trudge before anything happens, the following hour’s 'Action Man' clap-trap (which will no doubt appeal to teenage boys who love Bruce Willis), the flick-chick undertones of luvvie-duvvie involvement of a child in peril etc. You get the idea that I wasted an hour and a half!

The story is about a culture in Mexico where rich people have to hire minders, as kidnapping is so common and the gangs ruthlessly deal with victims and families with whom they engage. A washed-up ex-CIA superman is engaged by a family to protect their child, who subsequently gets kidnapped and he goes out to seek revenge (as he, by that time, has fallen so much for her sickly sweetness and words of love for him in her diary that has to go and put the world right in her honour)!

The 'flick-chick/Action Man sandwich' is just annoyingly sycophantic and overly guey, as far too long is spent setting the scene and background, focusing on the depressed alcoholic minder, the brat who tries, successfully (of course) to change him into a lovable gorgeous human being and the Mexican landscape of corruption and nasty people.

Then it's time for our hero to leap into action, ludicrously taking on hundreds of armed baddies around him, defeating them en-masse, in the same way as any Bruce Lee or all-action hero might. The level of his command over everyone and everything around him is absurd and will only appeal to those who can really remove themselves from any level of reality.

As we close the other side of the sandwich, eyes-raised and vomit-bowl to hand, we have to witness the soppy ending and storyline delivery designed to pull at heart-strings. It’s just a lot of rubbish and unless you can remove yourself from the storyline and direction and focus on the performances, you should give it a miss.

Denzel Washington is not very convincing as an all-action hero, I don’t think, but he’ll appeal to the teen boys and girls no doubt. Cutting through all the above there are some very good actors here demonstrating what they can do. Christopher Walken (Pulp Fiction, True Romance, Sleepy Hollow) steals every scene (not very many) in which he’s present. He’s a fine actor and can turn his hand to many different roles. Dakota Fanning (Oceans 8, War of the Worlds, The Alienist) performs quite excellently as the brat. As a child actor she really had something extra and it certainly came out here, even though she was given such a sickly sweet thing to do.

The mother was played also excellently by Neighbours' girl Radha Mitchell (Finding Neverland, Melinda and Melinda, Olympus Has Fallen) though she, too, didn’t have much screen-time, giving it up to Washington. The Italian actor who featured in Hannibal and a couple of Bond films recently, Giancarlo Giannini, played his usual part - and he does it very well, the grizzled hard-smoking cop shot stylishly in smoke-filled rooms, Mickey Rourke goes largely unnoticed and there’s supporting work from a range of other people, good and bad.

Although I slated the editing earlier, in actual fact some of the photography has been shot very well - I think it was at the editing stage and fancy effects that it fell apart. Leave directors alone! When they're not trying to be too clever for their own good, there’s some good use of focus and long-shots depicting the setting of inner-city Mexico interestingly.

As I said earlier, you really need to be in the target audience for this kind of tripe or be able to remove yourself to look at the various aspects of performance, direction, setting and production to keep from tutting, sighing and laughing to yourself at the absurdity! Otherwise, go enjoy!

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