Man on Fire is a 2004 American thriller film and the second adaptation of A. J. Quinnell's 1980 novel of the same name; the first film based on the novel was released in 1987 and starred Scott Glenn in the lead role. The 2004 film adaptation was directed by Tony Scott, from a screenplay written by Brian Helgeland.
The film stars Denzel Washington as John Creasy, a despondent, alcoholic former CIA operative/U.S. Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance officer turned bodyguard, who goes on a revenge rampage after his charge, nine-year-old Pita Ramos (Dakota Fanning), is abducted in Mexico City. The supporting cast includes Christopher Walken, Radha Mitchell, Giancarlo Giannini, Marc Anthony, Rachel Ticotin and Mickey Rourke.
In 2003, burnt-out ex-CIA officer and former U.S. Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance officer John Creasy (Denzel Washington) looks for work and reunites with old friend and comrade Paul Rayburn (Christopher Walken), who runs a security firm in Mexico. Because of the extremely high rate of kidnappings in Mexico City for ransom money, businessman Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) hires Creasy through Rayburn to guard his nine-year-old daughter "Pita" (Dakota Fanning), intending to keep him on for only a short period in order to renew his kidnap and ransom insurance on Pita. Creasy suffers from alcoholism, depression and severe guilt as a result of his past work as a counterinsurgency fighter and assassin, and so works for Samuel at a rate far below what his experience would command. At first Creasy distances himself socially from Pita, but the two soon develop a friendship, which allows Creasy to overcome his demons and to act as a mentor and surrogate father-figure to the girl.
After a piano lesson, Pita is abducted in public. Creasy kills four of the kidnappers including two corrupt policemen, but he is shot multiple times and collapses. Creasy is hospitalized but is moved to a veterinarian hospital by Miguel Manzano (Giancarlo Giannini), an agent of the Agencia Federal de Investigación (AFI), who suspects Creasy is an assassination target by rogue police. Meanwhile, the Ramoses agree to deliver a dead drop ransom of US$10 million per the instructions of "La Voz" ("The Voice") (Roberto Sosa), the mastermind behind the kidnapping ring. Samuel's attorney, Jordan Kalfus (Mickey Rourke), arranges for the ransom money to be collected from Samuel's kidnapping insurance policy, then arranges for it to be delivered to the kidnappers. The drop, however, is ambushed by members of "La Hermandad", a Mexican crime syndicate composed of corrupt police officers, leading to several of the ring members killed and the money being stolen. The Voice notifies the Ramos' that Pita will be killed in retribution.
Creasy leaves the hospital before fully recovering from his wounds and vows to Pita's mother Lisa (Radha Mitchell) that he will kill everyone involved in Pita's abduction. Rayburn supplies Creasy with firearms and explosives, while Mariana Guerrero (Rachel Ticotin), a journalist investigating the kidnappings, and Manzano, offer their support. Creasy tortures and murders several targets by cutting off their fingers and stopping the bleeding with a car cigarette lighter for their information and eventually learns from the "La Hermandad" general that the bags they stole at the ransom drop contained only $2.5 million actual currency while the rest was blank paper.
Investigating further, Creasy finds Kalfus dead and evidence of Samuel's desperate financial situation. He confronts Samuel and Lisa for the truth behind the kidnapping. Samuel confesses to Creasy and Lisa that he agreed to Kalfus' plan to stage Pita's kidnapping, so he could pay off business debts by fraudulently collecting the insurance money. He planned to keep $5 million for himself and split the rest between Kalfus and the kidnappers. He also confesses to killing Kalfus who lied that Pita would be safely returned after the ransom was paid. Creasy leaves a 9MM pistol and one misfired round, he saved from his own previously attempted suicide, for Samuel, who commits suicide.
Using the information provided by Creasy, The Voice's identity is revealed to be Daniel Sánchez, who Mariana exposes in the newspapers. Creasy shows up at Daniel's ex-wife's house and is shot by his brother Aurelio (Gero Camilo), who then tries unsuccessfully to escape. Creasy calls Daniel and threatens to kill his family, but Daniel reveals that Pita is still alive and offers to free her in exchange for Aurelio and if Creasy surrenders himself. Creasy agrees and informs Lisa to meet him at the exchange site. He and Pita share a tearful goodbye before he surrenders himself and is driven away by the kidnappers. Creasy dies peacefully en route from his gunshot injuries. Daniel Sánchez is later killed by Manzano during an AFI arrest.
- Denzel Washington as John W. Creasy, a former CIA operative and former Force Recon Marine officer
- Dakota Fanning as Guadalupe "Lupita" Martin Ramos, "Pita"
- Radha Mitchell as Lisa Martin Ramos
- Marc Anthony as Samuel Ramos
- Christopher Walken as Paul Rayburn, an old friend of Creasy from the CIA, who runs a security firm in Mexico
- Giancarlo Giannini as Miguel Manzano, director of the AFI
- Tony Scott stated "Giancarlo loves women, as did this character."
- Rachel Ticotin as Mariana Garcia Guerrero, a reporter for the Diario Reforma
- Jesús Ochoa as Victor Fuentes
- Mickey Rourke as Jordan Kalfus, Samuel Ramos' lawyer
- Kalfus and Samuel Ramos's father were best friends, and therefore Kalfus has a close relationship with Samuel. Mickey Rourke stated that Kalfus has "a responsibility to his father, to him, to look out for his well-being." Therefore Kalfus "[wants] to be there for him" when Ramos "gets his head underwater a little bit".
- Angelina Peláez as Sister Anna
- Roberto Sosa as Daniel Rosas Sánchez, "The Voice"
- Gero Camilo as Aurelio Sánchez
- He is based on Aurelio Arizmendi López, the brother of Daniel Arizmendi López.
- Mario Zaragoza as Jorge Ramirez
Tony Scott, the director, tried to have a version of the film made in 1983, but since the film would have been his second after The Hunger, Paul Davies, a journal article author, theorized that movie producers would have believed that Scott lacked the experience to direct the film. At the time Italy was still a major center of kidnapping in the world. A version was made in 1987 with Scott Glenn. Michael Bay and Antoine Fuqua were considered to direct the remake until Arnon Milchan, the producer of the 1987 film, asked Scott if he was still interested in producing a version of Man on Fire, as Milchan still owned the rights to the series.
20th Century Fox wanted the film to be set in Italy. An early draft of the film script was set in Naples. Scott argued that if the setting would be Italy, then the film would have to be a period piece, since by the 2000s kidnappings became a rare occurrence in Italy. Mexico City became the setting of the 2004 film because Mexico City had a high kidnapping rate, and due to other reasons. As a result, the character Rika Balletto was renamed Lisa Martin Ramos, and Pinta Balletto was renamed Lupita "Pita" Ramos. Ettore Balletto became Samuel Ramos. Robert De Niro was originally offered the role of Creasy. Prior to his death, Marlon Brando was the original choice to play Rayburn.
Man On Fire opened in the U.S. on April 23, 2004 in 2,980 theaters and grossed $22,751,490 with an average of $7,634 and ranking #1 at the box office. The films widest release was 2,986 theaters and it ended up earning $77,911,774 in North America and $52,381,940 internationally for a total of $130,293,714 worldwide, above its $70 million production budget.
The film received mixed to negative reviews from critics and has a rating of 39% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 161 reviews with an average rating of 5.2 out of 10. The consensus states "Man on Fire starts out well, but goes over the top in the violent second half." The film also has a score of 47 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 36 reviews.
Paul Davies, a journal article author, said that the critical reception to Man on Fire in the United States was "somewhat less than kind" because critics did not like the vigilantism that Creasy uses. Davies argues that "most critics missed" Creasy not taking "sadistic pleasure" in the killings since he kills to get information to get to all of the people involved in the kidnapping of Pita Ramos, and does not like harming innocent parties.
A. J. Quinnell had a favorable reception to this adaptation, mainly because the film used many of the book's lines. Quinnell said that usually screenwriters "like to leave their mark on the product." Quinnell added that even though he usually dislikes film adaptations of books, the writers "did a good job with Man On Fire and I loved the chemistry between Creasy and the girl" and "When I first heard Denzel was playing the part of Creasy I missed a couple of heartbeats but he played the part brilliantly. The film is violent and if the anger is not portrayed properly, the result can be awful."
Kevin Freese of the Foreign Military Studies Office stated that "it appears that the allusion" of the fictional Sánchez brothers with the real Arizmendi brothers "escaped the comprehension of much of the audience."
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