He Didn't Start the Fire

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Stephen Philips' review of Tony Scott's new movie Man on Fire was misleading, especially in his comparison with Rambo (October SR).

One of the defining characteristics of the Rambo series was its adoption of a right wing nationalistic agenda, which maintained that the US lost in Vietnam because it 'fought with one hand tied behind its back'. If only there'd been more gung-ho, no holds barred, patriotic psychos like Rambo fighting the war, then war veterans wouldn't feel so bad about themselves, and those who opposed the war would be shown up to be wimps.

I am at a loss to see how Man on Fire could be compared to this, because the movie hardly refers to the US at all, since it is set in Mexico and deals (in realistic detail) with the 'kidnapping business' there. The bodyguard, Creasy, is ex-CIA, but this is hardly treated with patriotic triumphalism. Denzel Washington gives a good performance as a man who is tortured by what he has done in the past, and looking for some sort of redemption. This he begins to find in the relationship that develops with the little girl he is guarding.

One of the strengths of the film is that it gives Washington the time to develop a more complex character than we would normally get in cartoon movies like Rambo. You don't get the moralistic triumphalism that comes with other revenge movies such as the Death Wish series, and there is none of the choreographed glitzy killing of Kill Bill. Creasy goes about revenge in a cold and calculating manner, and there is no enjoyment or satisfaction in what he is doing. If anything the gruesome murder scenes are designed to push the audience away from Creasy. The man we were beginning to sympathise with is in fact a horrific killer (and he was trained to do this by the state!).

There are perhaps some misjudged scenes and lines in the film but overall I thought it was a powerful and at times disturbing film with an excellent performance by Washington as an ambiguous hero/anti-hero. I doubt anyone leaving the cinema after watching Man on Fire would readily conclude that the world's problems are going to be solved by vigilantes hell-bent on killing sprees.

Joe Hartney
Edinburgh