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Man on Fire   May1 2004

Filed under De Arts |

The sun is harsh in Mexico City. Highlights burned, shade evil dark, and saturation in the eye of the beholder.

As usual, our friends the film critics have been too long in the hot sun – and forgot to remove their shades come curtain-rise.

Scott gets a right rogering for his polished effort, a marathon held together (for those of us short on sophistication) by a scorching blend of the redeemed dispensing redemption.

Fortunately the paying popcorn public have attention spans greater than panning pundits. Not a minute wasted, nor any essential frame left on the cutting room floor. Two hours, twenty-six minutes of engrossing and carefully crafted tension.

Mexico City is the fall guy, its corruption implicit, the context given. While Daniel Eagan lands a blow: "Giving credit to Mexico City after spending two hours depicting it as the worst hellhole…" considerable affection limned Mexitli merit before turning to its ugly underside.

And why did Lupita need be American, or her mum? Empathy might exalt authenticity beyond Scott’s wildest had he cast dark-eyed indigenous before brassy blondes.

Man on Fire builds and builds, no looking back. Falters not. It leads where we expect: to love, to lose, to go vigilante. Director Tony Scott knows his target better than specialist John Creasy (Denzel) his – and considerably more than Box Office Bon Vivants.

To be a movie critic – let me explain to the oft-disappointed who forgo two hours of keenly anticipated pleasure on the word of dire cynics – requires first that you lose faith in the message. The movie is, well … "heavy-handed and stiff, longwinded .. jittery .. trash .. meaningless(ly) stylistic .. conventionally dopey action plot .. "

To be a film fokker further specifies obsession with medium at expense of message. Whilst we who watch films for pleasure sit lapping every instant of vintage Scott, Washington, Walken and (if such endurance should apply to a child) Fanning, our picky pundits see only .. "intrusive, fake-stylish camera tricks — jump cuts, speeded-up changes in light, colour, saturation and focal depth."

Oh dear! Thank goodness I didn’t see any of that. What film were they watching (forced yet again to enquire)? Sure, there was some high-saturation, high-contrast, but Scott successfully masked potentially indecent violence with such documentary subliminals.

We saw it, acknowledged the ploy, forgave, and urged him to proceed with the nasty lesson.

Like any hero tale around the campfire, we impotent meek of this barbaric age gain solace in comics of sweet revenge.

Whilst treating yourself (go on!) you will notice upon the screen no hysteria, no hyperbole, little licence, nada neurotics — just professionals. All Creasy hears is "I’m a professional" – all you will see is professionals. Economy, temperance, efficiency, taste and ambience.

And time to reflect, a waning luxury in our modern hyper-flicks.