PUBLISHED 11 JULY 2016
"REVENGE is a meal best served cold”, John Creasy (Denzel Washington) states in Tony Scott’s MAN ON FIRE. It is an expression of his personality, revealing that behind his seemingly calm persona is a man who is driven by vengeance. The film centres around Washington’s problematic and volatile bodyguard, whose new purpose in life is to protect Lupita Ramos (Dakota Fanning), the young daughter of a wealthy industrialist in Mexico City. His bodyguard skills are put to the test as the girl’s life is inevitably put in danger. Scott’s revenge thriller presents a journey of love, loss, anger and vengeance.
Creasy is an ex-special forces solider trained in the occupation of killing. This casts him as a ticking time bomb of pent-up rage, hiding his mysterious and fragmented past. The past atrocities he committed as a soldier return to haunt his present. His anger is initially directed towards himself, displayed in his alcohol abuse, suicidal tendencies and cold personality. However, he develops a paternal relationship with Lupita, which provides him with meaning. He trains and teaches her to fight and, in return, the relationship gives him emotional strength. The growing relationship between them both reveals precious moments outside the corrupt world of crime they inhabit.
After Creasy attempts to kill himself in a drunken stupor, he phones his loyal friend Paul Rayburn (Christopher Walken) and asks, in a moment of foreshadowing, “Do you think God will ever forgive us for what we’ve done?” Lupita’s kidnapping remains his toughest challenge yet. Protecting her from harm is not the main challenge, however, but dealing with the men responsible for her disappearance. The film makes this visible in the powerful use of editing and cinematography as Creasy’s revenge is framed against brief snapshots, such as the echoes of Lupita’s cry, repeated again and again after each moment of retribution. Creasy’s actions raise a question about whether violence should be met with violence for the sake of justice and under the eyes of God in one of the most religious cities in the world. While speaking to a nun in Lupita’s school, the question is reinforced when she tells him “Do not overcome evil by evil, but overcome evil with good”.
Coming face-to-face with the harsh reality of crime in Mexico City, Creasy represents the fathers and families that have lost someone to the evils of Mexican crime syndicates. As MAN ON FIRE unfolds, Creasy’s purpose becomes more relevant and palpable. Essentially Creasy reveals his vengeful personality and reaps his revenge, but at the ultimate cost. We are all faced with difficult situations, but are not always in a position to do something about them.