Film Notes

Film Notes #10: Man on Fire (2004)

Tony Scott’s 2004 revenge drama starring Denzel Washington is Number 10 in my 30 day Film Notes series.

For newcomers, this month-long series of posts involves me watching a film every day for 30 days.

The following rules apply:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst Iโ€™m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It canโ€™t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Man on Fire (2004) which I watched on BBC1 HD via PVR on Saturday 24th March.

  • There is a weird Harry Potter connection to this film: JK Rowling’s agent Christopher Little also represents the A.J. Quinnell – author of the book on which it is based.
  • It has been filmed once before in 1987, with Scott Glenn in the Creasy role.
  • In that film the action was in Italy but here it has been relocated to Mexico.
  • Chanting music over opening titles, interchanging film stocks and the AVIDs are working overtime!
  • Walken and Washington have an instinctive rapport – we immediately get the vibe that these guys know each other
  • Dialogue establishes that they have been involved in some heavy stuff (ex-special ops)
  • Harry Gregson’s score has been used in a lot of news documentaries
  • Note the sound on the lighting of Mickey Rourke’s match – Scott loves a visceral audio mix.
  • The fleet of cars driving across the landscape recalls REVENGE (1990) another revenge themed film Scott shot in Mexico.
  • Some stylistic similarities between the two films, even though Scott has utilised the advances in digital editing and post-production
  • Neat trick making Dakota Fanning a precocious child – she’s essentially playing a version of herself.
  • Radha Mitchell was coming of the success of PITCH BLACK (2000) – she looks beautiful but her role is rather underwritten
  • First time I’ve seen this in HD and the clarity of image and golden hues are stunning (like his brother Ridley, Tony Scott is a master of light).
  • Nice tension created about a possible kidnapping in the traffic through cutting and camera.
  • Mitchell and Washington’s conversation is unusually constructed – use of zooms into the mirror used as well as conventional edits.
  • The ‘Creasy getting drunk’ scene is a little overcooked.
  • Like the fact that Walken has several phones – well researched detail.
  • Pita at the pool sequence is a good example of Scott’s attention to sound.
  • Pita: “Creasy, what’s a concubine?”
  • Nice chemistry between Fanning and Washington
  • Build up to the kidnapping is nice – interesting blend of camera moves, edits and sounds
  • Note the calm of the classical piano
  • Scott is using digital editing systems almost as a paintbox
  • Old school editors must be turning in their grave at a film like this
  • Like the fact that Spanish is spoken and the way the subtitles are done – slinking along the screen in sync with the words
  • Bursts of Lisa Gerrard’s vocals are used in this film to indicate emotion – her extraordinary voice was first used in THE INSIDER (1999) and then GLADIATOR (2000)
  • The visuals used to denote the kidnappers are insane
  • Ransom demand scene is not quickly edited (although it feels like it) but the flashing and speeded up effects give that vibe.
  • Like the way “La Hermandad” pops up in sync with dialogue.
  • Reverse chopper shot of Mexico skyline used from earlier?
  • Walken’s performance has a nice easy vibe that provides some welcome relief from the heavy drama.
  • Rachel Ticotin previously filmed TOTAL RECALL (1990) in Mexico.
  • Creasy quickly becomes a vengeful badass but that’s logical given his line of work.
  • Finger cutting scene is intense but it’s the kind of sequence that would infuriate the late Pauline Kael and her many acolytes.
  • Car falling off cliff recalls similar scene in THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991).
  • Creasy looks a bit out of place at the rave with that head scarf.
  • I think Tony Scott should do a whole film set at a rave – really go to town.
  • Split screen, bleach bypass, hand cranked cameras – this is visual overload!
  • One way Scott and his DP Paul Calderon relieve the furious style is to cut to a relatively pristine image.
  • The dancers cheering Creasy’s shotgun blasts is an effective touch – shows the atmosphere of mayhem.
  • Great night time photography in the conversation between Washington and Ticotin
  • Walken line about Creasy’s art is priceless – still not sure if it’s delivered with a metaphorical wink to the audience
  • Would it really be practical to fire a rocket launcher into a busy Mexican high street?!
  • Impressive explosion and flames however, plus this scene gave us the poster image.
  • Great location for the ass bomb scene. Really notice the lighting in HD.
  • It would have been really cool if the on screen stopwatch had synced in real time.
  • Washington’s delivery of his lines in this scene is excellent.
  • I bet someone somewhere has actually used the line “I wish. You had. More time!” just to be a badass.
  • Tony Scott was clearly born to shoot in Mexico.
  • Interior lighting of characters is tremendous.
  • Radha Mitchell doesn’t seem that distressed her husband has just blown his head off in their home.
  • It would be fair to say that this film is not a study of the social conditions that produce violence and kidnapping.
  • Creasy refusing money and blowing the hand off the Voice’s brother shows he really doesn’t care about what drives the ransom business (i.e. money)
  • Nice reverse offer from The Voice (“I will give you her life for your life”).
  • Interesting choice of time and location for the climax (often films end
  • Great shooting and use of music for the end.
  • Film has a slightly different resonance after the Fritzl case and all the subsequent kidnap films which almost became a Euro subgenre.
  • Like the way a mainstream film doesn’t wimp out at the end.
  • Nice symbolic touch of him dropping the St Jude medallion at the end and the credit that gives the date of the final day (Dec 16th 2003)
  • Alternate ending has Creasy going to the house of the Voice and blowing it all up.