Man on Fire

Highly Recommended with Caution. Now THIS is a revenge movie the way it should be. The Punisher, Kill Bill, Walking Tall, all recent and failed revenge movies because of their simple inability to understand the morality of revenge and its implications. First of all, Denzel Washington as the lead. Pure unadulterated class. This guy is my absolute favorite actor, not merely for his presence but for his choices in movies. He seems to be choosing more and more stories that have spiritual sides to them. This one clearly has it. Training Day was brilliant. He is a cynical ex-assassin for the CIA who has lost the will to live. He gets a job as bodyguard for a little girl of a Mexican aristocrat. The girl is played with wonderful brilliance by my favorite child actor, Dakota Fanning. BEWARE, big spoiler here: Anyway, he fails and she gets kidnapped, and ultimately killed and Denzel goes on a one man killing spree to track down every man connected with her kidnapping and killing right up to the top. This is what makes the movie harsh and probably not viewable for those more squeamish about violence. The story plays out the emotion of vigilante justice for us and we follow it because it rings true in our souls, good or bad. As I’ve explained elsewhere, vigilante violence is wrong, but it is a strong reality in our world and we must wrestle with the reality of our own duplicity. The fact is we do want those S.O.B.s who kidnap, rape and kill kids to die, and that is a righteous desire. But the fact is the law often does not bring justice for us. But is our rage or hatred justified by violating the law ourselves, or does that merely reduce us to the very evil we want to destroy? We want to follow Creasy on his spree to see justice achieved. Why? Because we want our innocence back. So, in some ways revenge against injustice is a natural and understandable desire. But is it ultimately right? The reason Creasy hunts them all down is because Pita, the little girl, was the one person to bring him hope again. Her innocence gave his depravity a chance for redemption, and that was stolen. Now, with that gone, he has nothing left to lose. Anyway, no playing around with fairness like in The Punisher, he kills them each without mercy, save a lowly Mexican woman. The point is, it rings absolutely true and genuine. Throughout the film through snatchets we learn that Denzel’s character, Creasy, has a spiritual past. He’s given up on God because of his own darkness. A nun asks Creasy if he sees the hand of God in his work as a bodyguard protecting the innocent. He says dryly, “no.” He can even quote the Bible but doesn’t believe it anymore, and struggles with reading the Bible in his moments alone in his apartment, because he knows it has the answer, he just can’t bring himself to go there. One moment even has him putting away the bottle to read the Bible. Near the end when Creasy discovers that Pita is actually alive, he gets the offer that she will live if he gives himself up to the head bad guy, “The Voice.” So when Creasy does give his life for the girl, he does so willingly in love for her. And he must die in a moral sense because of his own evil. But he redeems himself by realizing that to regain innocence he must sacrifice himself, not others. He must give his life for another. Substitutionary atonement. In this way, Creasy is a Christ figure. He is a metaphor of what Christ did for his own children. He sought them out, one by one, went to the very bowels of hell to rescue them and gave his life as a ransom for many. And I believe this self sacrifice is what redeems the otherwise vigilante story. Creasy realizes that freedom will be purchased by him dying for the girl, not necessarily killing the evil men. Of course, killing them in self-defense or through due process of law is certainly morally good, but personal vigilanteism is not. Vigilanteism is driven by hatred, not justice. Sacrifice is driven by love, not hate. As Denzel drives away with the bad guys, the screen fades out and we can only imagine the Passion-like horrors he will endure for the little one he saved. Very powerful. A thought comes to me head that it would have been great to tie in an element previously from the movie. Previously, Creasy blew up a guy by putting a bomb up his butt and setting it off with a watch timer. Well, wouldn’t it have been just nice for Creasy to be driving away with the Bad Guy and his gang, and then they hear a “beeping.” What is that? And they explode because Creasy had placed one of those bombs in himself. But even though that would have still been a self sacrifice, it would have spoiled the real sense of true suffering that we knew he would endure for the little girl. It would have been more Hollywood in wrapping up all the ends and getting the Bad Guy at the end anyway. And being Hollywood isn’t necessarily bad. But in this case, they probably chose the right path. Not to show that bad guys get away, but to show the deeper myth of atonement that was trying to be illustrated. Interesting how Brian Helgeland, the writer, would write the nihilism of Mystic River and L.A. Confidential then write a redemptive story like this. I think it clearly shows the influence of Mr. Washington, just like Training Day was influenced by him when he challenged the storytellers with the Scripture, “the wages of sin is death,” as a guide to the moral theme and the bad guy’s ending.

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