Originally created 09/09/04

Visual aspects distract from plot of potentially great 'Man on Fire'



There's nothing as disappointing as a near miss.

Man on Fire, the Denzel Washington vehicle slated for DVD release Tuesday, features a complex and compelling performance by Mr. Washington, an interesting and atmospheric setting in Mexico City and a director who can't get out of his own way.

What might have been an interesting take on the standard revenge flick is done irreparable damage by filmmaker Tony Scott's (Top Gun, Crimson Tide) pointlessly busy and endlessly distracting technique. Among the tricks employed in this rather straight-forward thriller are subtitles - for both Spanish and English conversations, screwy color saturations, the employment of shaky and under- and over-cranked cameras. It's as though Mr. Scott forgot that the function of a film is to tell a story, not show off how many nifty tricks he has learned.

It is a shame, because there is a good, perhaps great, movie hidden behind the visual noise. Mr. Washington's Creasy, a former black ops specialist who drowns his demons in a perpetual flow of whiskey, represents a powerful piece of acting. Surrounding him are equally interesting performances by a cast that included Italian cinema legend Giancarlo Giannini, iconic actor Christopher Walken and a surprisingly effective performance by 10-year-old Dakota Fanning.

The script is interesting and unexpected, and it invites the viewer to become emotionally involved in characters' plights. Sadly, style buries the substance, shifting focus from what is right in this movie to what is very, very wrong.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The DVD is light on extras, with only a commentary track to illuminate viewers as to how things went so terribly wrong. One interesting nugget: Mr. Scott refers several times to a past career as a painter. Would it be possible to take away his camera and slate and lead him back to the easel?

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.