Spoiler Alert – If you haven’t seen this 2004 movie and you still intend to watch it some 17 years after it was released then I should warn you that there are some plot details below which might ruin it for you. But it’s all fairly predictable stuff so you’d probably have been able to work it all out for yourself anyway.
2004’s Man On Fire is a fairly cheerless two and a half hours of a movie that doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Notionally an action movie, it takes quite a long time for there to be any action, spending the first hour or so establishing the relationship between reluctant bodyguard John Creasy (Denzel Washington) and his nine-year-old charge Pita (a young Dakota Fanning). While relatively slow-moving, these early scenes are fairly charming and suggest the movie is headed in a slightly different direction to where it eventually goes in the second half, which is essentially non-stop gratuitous violence, as Creasy avenges the untimely death of Lupita at the hands of kidnappers.
Except she isn’t really dead at all, but we don’t find that out until the end, so we spend most of the second half of the movie thinking that a nine-year-old girl has been brutally murdered. Which is a bit of a downer really. Obviously Lupita’s supposed death does help us reconcile ourselves to the incredible levels of violence that Creasy uses against the bad guys but then, when it turns out she isn’t dead, you do wonder if maybe the bad guys didn’t deserve to be quite so brutally dispatched.
Washington is, as is so often the case, a charismatic screen presence, Fanning is eminently likeable and they are ably supported by a cast that is not too shabby at all. It’s not a great movie by any means, and it’s about 30 minutes too long, but it is more watchable than it probably deserves to be.
Score for Christmasishness
There is nothing remotely Christmas(ish) about this movie. It has no place being in a list of movies that have an, admittedly sometimes tenuous, link to the festive season. I wouldn’t have included it at all, except that, in the final scenes it becomes apparent, thanks to a helpful caption, that the events of the movie conclude on the 16th of December. Which is quite close to Christmas.