Po-faced, dull and sadistic, Man On Fire is a major disappointment from the Crimson Tide team of Denzel Washington and Tony Scott. No amount of hyperactive edits and flash camera moves can disguise the slightness of the story, about an alcoholic bodyguard (Washington) wreaking revenge on child-nappers in Mexico City. Nor can it excuse the moral hypocrisy of a picture that couples brutal, over-the-top violence with a bogus message of redemption.
Few filmmakers are as adept at combining bloody, wince-inducing action with witty, wisecracking characters as Scott - just watch True Romance and The Last Boy Scout. But here he seems intent on dealing with 'serious issues', little realising one reason fans love his movies is they're not as self-consciously important as his brother Ridley's can be. Thus, what could have made a serviceable revenge thriller is weighed down by lots of moody gurning, grim-faced regret and the idea that spilling the blood of others can somehow cleanse yourself.
"ESSENTIALLY DEATH WISH WITH PRETENSIONS"
Washington, a superb actor, plays the one-note of his character relentlessly, with nothing here to stretch him. And it says something about how mean-spirited the script is that his 'tortured soul' earns little or no sympathy. Mostly because he's torturing other people: cutting off fingers or, in one risible scene, blowing up a butt. That we're supposed to not just enjoy this (and, let's face it, plenty of us enjoy watching violence), but approve of his gruesome tactics speaks volumes for where this movie's coming from.
The film is essentially Death Wish with pretensions: nasty and brutish, but sadly, not short.