"Do you think God will forgive us for what we've done?" asks John Creasy (Denzel Washington) of his erstwhile fellow military operative Rayburn (Christopher Walken). Regardless of the answer, Tony Scott's depressingly predictable Man on Fire would have been a more interesting film had it posed that question at the end, instead of presenting an intensely violent revenge drama as a tale of redemption. Scott is capable of making an interesting film, but he's seemingly incapable of allowing a single contemplative moment in his work, or trusting the audience to understand what his characters might be thinking or feeling without his providing a half-dozen rapid-fire visual or aural cues. No filmmaker is more likely to flash back to a sequence we saw ten minutes earlier. Scott's hyperactive style makes a certain sense when applied to a disorienting twisty story like Enemy of the State, but with this inexorably straightforward material, all the whip pans and rack focusing and jump cuts are mostly just irritatingly distracting, and the faux-gritty stylization -- as when a jaunty Spanish pop tune plays on a car radio during a torture scene (exceedingly Tarantino-esque) -- often seems flip. The little girl in the film, as written by Brian Helgeland and played by Dakota Fanning, bears little resemblance to any human child, and is most recognizable as a convenient vehicle for Creasy's redemption. Were she any less angelic, we might not feel encouraged to revel in Creasy's brutality as he sets about avenging her. Washington brings a certain gravitas to his role, which helps to conceal the fact that Man on Fire is pure exploitation. Despite its specious allusions to the real world (shocking kidnapping statistics) and its pervasive religious iconography, it's a morally vacuous button-pusher with the soul of a sneaker commercial.
by Josh Ralske review