Saturday, April 24, 2004

Man On Fire

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 April 2004 at Loews Boston Common #6 (first-run)

Young actors flat-out amaze me, and films that rely on them flat-out boggle my mind. Consider Man On Fire; this is a movie that costs tens of millions of dollars and which basically rests upon the performance of a ten-year-old girl. Sure, Dakota Fanning has a track record, earned in movies like I Am Sam and Trapped and the mini-series Taken where she's not quite as pivotal (though I hesitate to imagine the latter if she wasn't quite so good), but the fact of the matter is, she must have been all of nine when this was filmed, and most of us weren't quite ready for that level of responsibility at that age. She's important enough to the movie that I imagine Radha Mitchell was cast as her character's mother in part due to her resemblence to the kid rather than the other way around.

She is, arguably, more important to the movie than its actual star, Denzel Washington. Washington is good, very good, but it's up to Miss Fanning to make us believe that Pita, this little girl, can make the cynical alcoholic soldier-of-fortune Creasy take some joy in life again. She also must have enough presence in the first half of the movie that her absence in the second half not only makes us growl "son of a bitch must pay", but can send the audience into the same sort of despair as Creasy. For the most part, she's up to the task.

Sadly, the same can't be said for the director, Tony Scott. Scott's frustrating at times; his movies have always been slick and polished and generally well-crafted, but I can't remember his movies ever really connecting with the audience emotionally. The man is good at building suspense, but that's not really what this movie is about; though it has the plot of a thriller, it's more about getting into what makes Creasy tick. There is a feeling of just playing out the string Creasy follows a trail of kidnappers up the ladder to their leader, and while in a way that's right - as creative and nasty as Creasy gets, there being no real pleasure in it for the audience reflects Creasy's state of mind. It just goes on for so long, well past when we've gotten the point. The nature and severity of Creasy's injuries also comes off as inconsistent - there are points when it looks pretty bad, but others right next to them where he seems relatively unaffected. It feels like there's supposed to be a point to it, that this is something Creasy needs to do more than he needs to live, but at other times he just comes off as too badass to get hurt. The former are interesting, but are continually undercut by the latter.

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