Man On Fire (2004)

(In theaters, April 2004) Almost-successful revenge drama starring Denzel Washington in another very solid performance. Unlike some other revenge films, there is some real emotional content as the relationship between victim and avenger is established. It takes too much time (nearly an hour!), but at least it’s there, buried under the stylistic embellishments of directory Tony Scott. Anyone who has followed the brother Scotts’ careers knows that they’re prone to unexplainable excess, and Man On Fire attains an exasperating paroxysm of self-indulgent style. For no reason at all, the camera will jerk, speed up, slow down, cut to impressionistic passages or go wild with grain and outrageous colours. It works in some specific instances, but otherwise mauls the intent of some scenes and inserts another layer of interpretation between the viewer and the story. The only truly successful experiment is the unprecedented use of subtitles as emotional counterpoint to the action: Even English phrases are written on-screen as reflections on the action and illustrations of rage. (Overall, though, Scott’s “Deal with the Devil” short film on the bmwfilms.com site serves as a stylistic preview of Man On Fire) There’s no denying that this is a very long film. When it starts to heat up, it does the “revenge fantasy” shtick better than The Punisher (and, ironically, in a style considerably closer to comic books that the comic book adaption itself) But it’s just too long; even the elegiac conclusion could have been chopped away without much loss. Not bad, but annoying. Not good, but involving. Tony Scott is working only a tiny trip away from total madness, through.

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