Saturday, April 24, 2004

Man on Fire (IMDB) (Netflix)
This revenge flick follows The Punisher and Kill Bill, Vol. 2 in a harmonic genre convergence, but unlike "Bill", isn't pressure-treated with references to a few dozen other movies and genres, so you won't see this at the local snob-o-plex. Denzel Washington is a former counter-insurgency operative/assassin who's circling the emotional drain and has taken up housekeeping with a bottomless bottle of Jack Daniels. Christopher Walken, a former brother in arms, gets him a mercy gig as a bodyguard in Mexico City, where there's been a spate of kidnappings. His charge is a precocious Dakota Fanning, who can't be more than 10, but it's the most fulfilling relationship he's had in years. Of course, the inevitable happens, and Denzel goes after the bad guys, which span petty hoods to corrupt cops to — well, that's enough to get the concept.

Director Tony Scott is a master of the visual; every frame has something extra, and it's cut like a commercial. For a 2-1/2 hour movie, that's a lot of editing. I enjoyed the interplay between Denzel and Dakota, who is a force of acting nature, and while the story is amply stocked with typical revenge/redemption flick elements (the drinking, the trip to the gun superstore), they were presented in a fresh and stylish way that climbed beyond the cliché zone apparently occupied by The Punisher, but didn't match Kill Bill's artistry.