By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
"Do you ever see the hand of God in what you do?" a nun asks Denzel Washington in Man on Fire, the latest pyrotechnic blitz from Tony Scott. We get our answer soon enough as Washington's ex-Marine embarks on a biblical rampage to avenge the kidnapping of the girl he was assigned to protect. This Scripture-quoting bodyguard represents the latest in a recent line of Bushian vigilantes, but this time, the hero's similarities to our divine-right commander in chief are elevated to near-parodic levels: a monosyllabic, gun-toting loner who, in a scene of miraculous conversion, gives up the drink after an all-night rap session with the Lord.
Intentional or not, Man on Fire's over-the-top evocation of Christian retribution goes a long way to making this otherwise standard revenge fantasy watchable. Writer Brian Helgeland relocates A.J. Quinnell's source novel from Naples to Mexico City, though he keeps at the center a lily-white American tot (Dakota Fanning), whose wealthy parents hire Washington's jarhead as her guardian. Always a pro, Denzel endures the film's curmudgeon-moppet bonding scenes with good cheer. Only after the precocious one goes missing does he initiate a nonstop bloodbath that (spoiler alert!) culminates in his own calvary-style martyrdom.
Replete with high-grade weaponry and the bodies of dirty foreigners, Man on Firequalifies as a right-wing fever dream, or perhaps just another day at the office for our country's leaders. As usual, Tony Scott doesn't know a scene that couldn't benefit from seizure-inducing jump cuts or neck-spraining aerial pans, though by far his worst stylistic offense is the movie's wipe 'n' fade subtitles, which suggest a high-protein PowerPoint presentation. More is more, and it's in this belief that Man on Fire ultimately deserves to be called by its primary inspiration: Operation Shock and Awe.
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