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Man on Fire | review | dvd | Lollipop

Man on Fire

(20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)
By Brian Varney

The first time I saw this film, I shit you not, was on a flight to Mexico. One would think that a film about the kidnapping epidemic in Mexico is probably not the wisest movie choice for a flight to Mexico. In any case, I didn't buy the headphones on that particular flight, so I watched the entire movie without dialogue, which provided me the unique opportunity to evaluate the film solely from a visual perspective. And Man on Fire is a film that's particularly anxious to have itself evaluated visually.

The cinematography, which features lots of jerky handheld work, jittery jump cuts, sudden and seemingly pointless zooms, and anarchic shifts in color palette, brought two other films immediately to mind: David Fincher's Se7en and Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, both of which featured similarly showy visual techniques. However, the difference between those films and this one is the purpose of such usage. Whereas Fincher and Soderbergh both employed the techniques in question as a way of involving the audience emotionally, I can't really see any reason for these same techniques in Man on Fire. If anything, they seem to achieve the opposite here, distracting the audience rather than pulling them further into the world of the film.

Another complaint is the length. Man on Fire is 146 minutes long, which is a long time, considering how little happens. The basic premise can be summed up fairly quickly: John Creasy, a broken-down ex-CIA man with a drinking problem, takes a job as a bodyguard for a wealthy child and begins to form an emotional bond with her. She is kidnapped and he is shot several times while trying to stop the abduction. After nearly dying, he leaves the hospital and decides to exact his revenge on everyone involved in the kidnapping, tracking them all down and killing them. The concept of the lone renegade setting out to exact his own brand of justice, outside of the laws and standards of normal society, is one most moviegoers can relate to, as the character has existed in one form or another dating back to Ethan Edwards as portrayed by John Wayne in The Searchers, or in anyone who's portrayed Philip Marlowe in the many film adaptations of Raymond Chandler's novels. We like this character, and Denzel Washington does his usual fine job portraying him. However, none of the film's other characters are developed in any but the flimsiest of ways, so we end up with what is essentially 40 or so minutes of fine, empty-headed shoot-'em-up entertainment (though even some of this is frustrated by the aforementioned camera techniques) buried among a bunch of ancillary stuff that doesn't really enhance the story in any way.


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