Despite attracting the easy label of another picture more concerned with style over substance, "Man on Fire" packs such a fury behind director Tony Scott's imagery that the lack of a completely developed story doesn't take away terribly from the focus on flash. I also suppose that, if I'm to sit down to watch a movie that concentrates so completely on style, I'd hope it was a picture helmed by Scott, who has made quite a successful career out of having a camera spin the entire way around a mere conversation.
The film stars Denzel Washington as ex-Special Forces operative Creasy, who is now drowning his sorrows in alcohol, looking for work from an old friend (Christopher Walken). His best hope is a job as a bodyguard in Mexico, working for Samuel (Marc Anthony), guarding him, his wife (Rhada Mitchell) and his daughter, Pita (Dakota Fanning). Pita is his focus, however. Her initial moments with Creasy are oil/water, as the ex-agent doesn't have any interest in making friends.
Despite the inital coldness, Creasy eventually warms up to Pita, helping her practice for her upcoming swim meet and chatting with the girl during their rides to school. After taking the girl to a piano lesson, she's kidnapped when she walks out the door by a band of criminals, including corrupt officers. Creasy is severely wounded, but he manages to work through his injuries and return to the family, vowing unholy revenge on those responsible.
Scott's overcooked style has occasionally not been receieved well in other films, such as "Spy Game", with its somewhat infamous swirling chopper shot of Brad Pitt and Robert Redford chatting on a roof. "Man on Fire" takes this to another level, with jumpy frames, slow-motion, cutting, color manipulation and what appears to be every editing technique under the sun. Scott also adds large, moving subtitles on-screen occasionally. While some of it becomes excessive, Scott largely uses these techniques effectively to heighten atmosphere and tension, as well as to visually keep up with Washington's force-of-nature performance.
The performances are also terrific. Denzel Washington provides an outstanding effort as Creasy, convincingly building the friendship between his and Fanning's characters. Once Creasy begins his rampage, Washington's intensity and portrayal of slow-boil rage are remarkable and convincing. Although I've been irritated by Fanning's performances in films like "Uptown Girls", she's quite good here. Also fine in small roles are Marc Anthony and Rhada Mitchell.
VIDEO: "Man on Fire" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 2.35:1 (AVC/1080P). The presentation is phenomenal, with clarity and detail that are consistently stunning. Small object detail is remarkable, as hairs and other facial features are presented with incredible, almost "life-like" definition. The picture boasts amazing depth to the image throughout the show and the presentation does handle Scott's bold stylistic choices with ease.
The presentation does show some slight film grain (although that is obviously an element of the cinematography.) The usual concerns aren't in attendance - we find no edge enhancement, no pixelation or noise. A few tiny specks on the print are so minor as to be easily overlooked. The film's gritty, bold color palette looked accurately presented here.
SOUND: The film is presented with a fantastic DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio presentation. The film's sound design was enjoyable, although maybe not quite as aggressive as I'd expected. Also, given the film's aggressive visual style, it's a little surprising that the film's audio wasn't a bit more enveloping. Surrounds certainly kick in for some whoosh sound effects to accompany some of the more swift camera moves and they offer reinforcement of the score, but they could have easily been brought in to provide more ambience or other small touches. Despite activity not being quite as intense as I'd expect, audio quality is marvelous. Harry Gregson-Williams' score is appropriately thunderous, while sound effects pack a punch. Dialogue remains crisp and clear throughout, while low bass provides a deep, tight rumble.
EXTRAS: Unfortunately, nothing - none of the extras from the previous editions have been carried over here. All we get are trailers for "Man on Fire" and other Fox flicks.
Final Thoughts: "Man On Fire" runs a little long at 145 minutes, but the film's performances are excellent and the brutal revenge drama boils with intensity, especially in the second half. Fox's Blu-Ray edition delivers in the presentation department, offering the film with a thrilling DTS-HD audio option and picture quality that is a clear winner over the DVD edition. The only problem? What happened to all those nice extras that were on the DVD editions?
The Film B+