[box cover]

Man on Fire: Collector's Edition

Were it not for Top Gun, Tony Scott might have directed Man on Fire in the 1980s, when the project was first offered to him by producer Arnon Milchan. However, as so often happens in the fluid world of pre-production, the project eventually went to French director Elie Chouraqui, who helmed an international cast in Italy (both Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro were tapped to star; the lead eventually went to Scott Glenn). But if good ideas die hard, it was inevitable that Milchan would once again pitch the story Scott's way, and this time with enough clout to assemble a top-tier cast and a script by Brian Helgeland. In the 2004 remake, Denzel Washington stars as Creasy, a former Special Forces operative who has retired from active duty. At loose ends, living with both a drinking problem and an unresolved conscience, Creasy travels to Mexico, where he looks up his associate Rayburn (Christopher Walken). Rayburn has done well for himself as an expatriate businessman, and while the former assassin doesn't share his colleague's profound melancholia, he understands why Creasy has become a lost soul. ("Do you think God will forgive us for what we've done?" Creasy asks. "No," is Rayburn's sober reply.) Hoping to allow Creasy some light and space to work things out, Rayburn arranges for him to act as a bodyguard to young Pita Ramos (Dakota Fanning), daughter of wealthy Mexico City industrialist Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) and his American wife Lisa (Radha Mitchell). In a financial bind, Ramos hires Creasy on the urging of his attorney Jordan Kalfus (Mickey Rourke), who advises he hire someone inexpensive for insurance purposes. At first, Creasy and Pita find themselves at odds — the young girl is completely infatuated with her new protector, while Creasy keeps a professional distance, often limiting their conversation. But before long he finds himself acting in a father-figure capacity, in part because of Samuel Ramos's frequent business trips. But if Creasy was merely hired to appease the insurance agents, it doesn't mean that Pita is not a target for kidnapping, and after she's snatched away during a bold daylight raid, Creasy vows to hunt down the perpetrators in a one-man war that works its way through higher and higher levels of criminal warlords and government corruption.

*          *          *

Clocking in at 2:25, Man on Fire is too epic in length to qualify as a standard action film, but the scope is capably handled by Brian Helgeland and Tony Scott. Helgeland's script — while occasionally saying more than it needs to — is, at its heart, an unconventional love story between a burnout loner approaching middle-age and a wide-eyed child who offers him a second chance at life. And while the first hour of the film is mostly an examination of this relationship, the fact that something is bound to happen holds the audience's attention, allowing the rich interpersonal details to gain that much more resonance when the story shifts gears into a brutal revenge play. Director Scott notes in his commentary that Denzel Washington wasn't among his first choices during pre-production, but a chance meeting with his Crimson Tide star led to a fortuitous bit of casting — when burnout Creasy becomes hell-bent Creasy, a man who has made intimidation, torture, and killing his own particular form of art, only an A-list star with Washington's sheer charisma can overcome the fact that the character essentially lives in a world that's morally gray (Helgeland's Payback [1999] utilized Mel Gibson in a similar manner). Co-star Dakota Fanning is a remarkable child star, just nine years old during filming, but capable of delivering lines with inflections of someone twice her age, and Scott's cast includes such reliables as Christopher Walken and Mickey Rourke in supporting roles, while Radha Mitchell and Marc Antony do creditable turns as Pita's somewhat distant parents. As for Tony Scott, his directing style has evolved over the past several years with a wide vocabulary of cinema that includes various film stocks, verité inserts, hand-cranked camerawork, and the sort of rapid-fire editing that could overheat an Avid workstation. His unusual use of subtitles in this outing only adds to the deeply stylized effect, and while the results won't be to everyone's taste, few directors today can paint on such a wide canvas.

Fox's two-disc DVD release of Man on Fire: Collector's Edition — a follow-on to the initial single-disc release — features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Disc One is nearly identical to the first incarnation, with a laid-back, informative commentary from Tony Scott, while Dakota Fanning, scenarist, Brian Helgeland, and producer Lucas Foster can be heard on a second track. Meanwhile, the all-new Disc Two includes the excellent behind-the-scenes documentary "Vengeance is Mine: Reinventing Man on Fire" (72 min.) with a look at the film's location shoot, the kidnapping epidemic in Latin America, and comments from the film's principal cast and crew. Also included is a section entitled "Pita's Abduction" with a script excerpt, storyboards, and a multi-angle breakdown; 15 deleted scenes with optional commentary by Tony Scott and a "play all" option; a stills gallery; the "Oye Como Va" music video by Kinky; three Man on Fire theatrical trailers; and four bonus trailers for other Fox titles. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—JJB



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