Ebert:1/2 New York Times:1/2 TV Guide:1/2

Warning, minor plot points revealed!

Man on Fire is an excellent film.  It's the movie that The Punisher should have been.  If you want to see some real punishment then this is the film for you.  

Director Tony Scott, who made one of my all time favorite films True Romance, has created another outstanding action drama.  The New York Times said "[Scott's] fondness for intrusive, fake-stylish camera tricks -- jump cuts, speeded-up montages, abrupt changes in light, color saturation and focal depth -- has overwhelmed whatever story sense he once possessed."  I couldn't agree more, except  I consider all this a good thing.  I love the visual style of this film.  It's very reminiscent in tone and texture to last year's fantastic City of God.  

It is in fact Scott's stylistic technique that elevates this movie above the somewhat standard trappings of the typical revenge drama.  Oh, and the violence is much more brutal and lusciously realistic when using this "intrusive" method.  

Creasy (Denzel Washington) is an drunk ex government operative/soldier of fortune who is mentally collapsing under the weight of his sins.  He stops to visit a friend and fellow ex-soldier (Christopher Walken) in Mexico city, most likely to say goodbye before he kills himself.  Instead, he is offered a job to protect a little girl named Pita (Dakota Fanning).  Pita is the only daughter of a rich Mexican business man (Marc Anthony.)  She immediately likes Creasy and it is not long before he realizes that he likes her too.  They are both very alone and a father/daughter bond quickly develops.   

According to the film someone is kidnapped in Mexico every 90 minutes and we see a terrible example of this at the beginning of the film.  Eventually Pita is taken and Creasy is seriously wounded trying to protect her.  As he recovers, the ransom drop for Pita's return is botched and Pita is presumably killed.  This sets Creasy off.  Pita was his only reason to live and if she has been taken then everyone, and I mean everyone, who had anything to do with her death will suffer and die at his hand.  He has nothing to live for now except vengeance.  

And his vengeance is terrible.  Terribly good that is!  While The Punisher dispatched those responsible for his family's murder quickly and without feeling, Creasy must question, torture and murder his way up the ladder of Mexico's kidnapping syndicate.  Those responsible for Pita's death are savaged for information and then murdered in cold blood as soon as they have answered Creasy's questions.  There is a satisfaction in their deaths and that is what I thought was lacking in The Punisher.

Tony Scott (The Last Boy Scout, Crimson Tide) has a flair for ultra violence.  He's a harder edged version of his more celebrated brother Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator.)   The 90's best child actor was, without a doubt, Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense, Artificial Intelligence).  At this point the best child actor of this decade is unquestionably Dakota Fanning.  She is intelligent beyond her years and absolutely adorable.  It is completely believable that Creasy, or anybody for that matter, would be willing to die for her.  She is an precocious actor and is able to easily hold her own with Academy Award winner Denzel Washington who also shines in the role.  He gives the character a very palpable depth of despair and once set off, an anger that literally burns up the screen.  

The other actors in the movie all do fine but it's really Dakota and Denzel's show.  Christopher Walken, in a rare good guy role plays Creasy's friend.  Singer Marc Anthony and Radha Mitchell do fine as Pita's distant parents.  Mickey Rourke pops up as the family lawyer.  And Giancarlo Giannini (Hannibal) plays his typical interpol/police/government agent role.  

This movie was a great way to cap off the Spring Revenge Trilogy of Kill Bill, The Punisher and Man on Fire.  I loved it.  There are a lot of good movies coming out over the next few months so if you only get out to the theater once in a while then you can probably wait to see this one on DVD.  It's a great film, and it was fun to watch with a full theater, but a receptive audience is not required to enjoy it.  This one's a definite must see.