Despite attracting the easy label of another picture more concerned with style over substance, "Man on Fire" packs such a fury behind director Tony Scott's imagery that the lack of a completely developed story doesn't take away terribly from the focus on flash. I also suppose that, if I'm to sit down to watch a movie that concentrates so completely on style, I'd hope it was a picture helmed by Scott, who has made quite a successful career out of having a camera spin the entire way around a mere conversation.
The film stars Denzel Washington as ex-Special Forces operative Creasy, who is now drowning his sorrows in alcohol, looking for work from an old friend (Christopher Walken). His best hope is a job as a bodyguard in Mexico, working for Samuel (Marc Anthony), guarding him, his wife (Rhada Mitchell) and his daughter, Pita (Dakota Fanning). Pita is his focus, however. Her initial moments with Creasy are oil/water, as the ex-agent doesn't have any interest in making friends.
Despite the inital coldness, Creasy eventually warms up to Pita, helping her practice for her upcoming swim meet and chatting with the girl during their rides to school. After taking the girl to a piano lesson, she's kidnapped when she walks out the door by a band of criminals, including corrupt officers. Creasy is severely wounded, but he manages to work through his injuries and return to the family, vowing unholy revenge on those responsible.
Scott's overcooked style has occasionally not been receieved well in other films, such as "Spy Game", with its somewhat infamous swirling chopper shot of Brad Pitt and Robert Redford chatting on a roof. "Man on Fire" takes this to another level, with jumpy frames, slow-motion, cutting, color manipulation and what appears to be every editing technique under the sun. Scott also adds large, moving subtitles on-screen occasionally. While some of it becomes excessive, Scott largely uses these techniques effectively to heighten atmosphere and tension.
The performances are also terrific. Denzel Washington provides an outstanding effort as Creasy, convincingly building the friendship between his and Fanning's characters. Once Creasy begins his rampage, Washington's intensity and portrayal of slow-boil rage are remarkable and convincing. Although I've been irritated by Fanning's performances in films like "Uptown Girls", she's quite good here. Also fine in small roles are Marc Anthony and Rhada Mitchell.
VIDEO: "Man on Fire" is presented by Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (although there is also a pan & scan version, unfortunately). The picture quality is excellent throughout the film - while it occasionally runs into a couple of minor concerns, the level of picture quality almost never falters. Sharpness and detail are superior, as the picture boasts consistently strong defintion and detail.
Some minimal edge enhancement surfaced at times, but the picture was never effected by it very much at all. Pixelation was not noticed, while the print appeared to be in excellent condition - minor/mild grain spotted occasionally is an intentional element of the cinematography. Colors were altered for the look of the film, but the color palette and overall look of the film on this DVD accurately captured how the film appeared theatrically. This edition appears to be the same visually as the prior release.
SOUND: "Man on Fire" is presented in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. The film's sound design was enjoyable, although maybe not quite as aggressive as I'd expected. Also, given the film's aggressive visual style, it's a little surprising that the film's audio wasn't a bit more enveloping. Surrounds certainly kick in for some whoosh sound effects to accompany some of the more swift camera moves and they offer reinforcement of the score, but they could have easily been brought in to provide more ambience or other small touches. Despite activity not being quite as intense as I'd expect, audio quality is marvelous. Harry Gregson-Williams' score is appropriately thunderous, while sound effects pack a punch. Dialogue remains crisp and clear throughout, while bass is often strong. This edition appears to sound the same as the prior release.
EXTRAS: director Tony Scott provides an audio commentary, as do screenwriter Brian Helgeland, producer Lucas Foster and actress Dakota Fanning sit together for the second commentary. Scott's commentary isn't one of his best - he does occasionally narrate the picture in-between providing some interesting tidbits about casting, the film's look and shooting on locations. The second commentary is very enjoyable, as it provides the three different viewpoints - writing, performance and producing. It gives a lot of insight, and Fanning, despite her young age, provides some enjoyable bits of information about the making of the film. Her presence also adds some welcome humor into the proceedings. The screenwriter and producer share a good deal of chat about issues such as what attracted them to the project, what has changed from the early drafts and stories from the set.
The second disc starts off with "Vengeance Is Mine: Reinventing 'Man On Fire'". The documentary, which runs a bit over an hour, starts off in fine form by introducing us to the long history of the project (Scott had an interest in it years ago), talking about creating the setting of the film and choosing a location, as well as some research and rehearsals that had to be done. The middle of the piece drags a little bit as we're introduced to some of the main actors, who talk about their characters, but we then get back into interesting territory, as we hear more about production stories.
In the second half, stories are offered (while location scouting in Mexico City, production crew were attacked and threatened) and the filmmakers offer further insights about shooting in the area - essentially, the filmmakers realized that they were trying to do a major movie in a city where it was difficult to get equipment around and even just film in some locations. This portion of the documentary also talks specifically about shooting specific sequences.
Next is a scene breakdown for "Pita's Abduction", where there is a multi-angle look at the scene w/optional commentary from Tony Scott, storyboards and screenplay piece. After that is a selection of 15 deleted scenes w/optional commentary. The deleted scenes section includes a quite different alternate ending, which extends the story and sees what happens to Washington's character.
Finally, we get a music video, three trailers for "Man on Fire" and promos for other Fox titles.
Final Thoughts: "Man On Fire" runs a little long at 145 minutes, but the film's performances are excellent and the brutal revenge drama boils with intensity, especially in the second half. Fox's DVD provides excellent image quality, very good audio and a fine selection of supplements. Fans who own the original release probably won't find enough reason here to upgrade, but this edition is recommended to those who don't already own the film.