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Murder Slim Review: MAN ON FIRE

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I've now (uncomfortably) written over 100 reviews - they'll pop up over the next few months on this new version of MurderSlim.com. So it's time - just this one time - to fully inject the sort of personal feeling that I hate in reviews. Reviewers talk way too much about themselves and not the movie/book. They'll tell us where they watched it. Who they watched it with. What in their own work it reminds them of. And endless, annoying fucking similes and comparisons... "PIRANHA was like THE BIG BLUE on acid!"

I can obsess over ratings on imdb.com. MAN ON FIRE scores 7.7 on there. That's higher than a lot of great movies. JACKIE BROWN scores 7.6, but let's just take Nicolas Winding Refn's movies, all of which are comfortably better than MAN ON FIRE. BRONSON scores 6.8, while the highest scoring of Refn's movies - PUSHER - scores 7.4. The lowest is VALHALLA RISING at 5.8, which still pisses on MAN ON FIRE (if only it would put it out).

But why? Well, of course, it has to do with the stupidity of the masses. That sweaty horde that get in your way on streets and roads. The masses that fire out more children than you could ever stand. But what drives these folks? How do they rate movies?

Now, you've talked to those masses too, so let's break down what they use to figure out whether they like a movie and what out o' 10 score they'll give it on imdb.
--- Acting (4). Everyone in the masses seems to think they can act. They love to critique bad and good acting, often dismissing certain actors (Tom Cruise and, oh, Jeffrey Combs etc) who can clearly act but aren't in movies they like.
--- Story (4). A good twist may even push this up to a 5. If you were in a cinema for the finale of THE USUAL SUSPECTS, you would have smelt salty jizz from the cocks of almost all of the male audience. Yet, if their tiny minds predict the story (often through guesswork) there's no jizz. Equally, if the ending is off kilter (say, SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE) then they'll hate the whole fucking movie even if they liked it up to that point. Hindsight is 0/10.
--- Views from friends and mainstream reviewers (2). Now these folks take big stall in what their mates like but also what is acknowledged to be good. They will sit through (the brilliant) THE GODFATHER and love it, for all it's three+ hours. But they won't sit through (the equally brilliant) ARMY OF SHADOWS for three hours because they've never heard of it and, well, it's got subtitles.

Now, from this, we can figure out their views on MAN ON FIRE:
--- Acting (4/4). Denzel Washington is in it. The guy can act brilliantly and everyone knows it. In MAN ON FIRE he plays his typical role - an intense loner racked with an inner struggle. (He's actually a pompous alky in this one, who nurses the same bottle of Jack Daniels for three nights. He also gets suicidal after two swigs. Bukowski would not approve.)
--- Story (2/4). It is a bit long, and at 2h20mins it does take some time to kick in. (But these folks won't be grumbling nearly as loud as they were throughout WATCHMEN, because fortunately they're going in with the following knowledge...)
--- Reviews (2/2). My mates and that guy in EMPIRE told them to wait for the goodies... Denzel Washington was gonna to kill some people! And the ending is mental and will stay with you, man, trust me....

--- Total masses' score: 8/10 ("Denzel's Creasy may be morally greasy, but his exploits are explosive and exhilarating" - Empire Magazine)

Now, let's take the Murder Slim approach that you know and love. Because you are all wonderful people (and you are) you use this breakdown too:
--- Characters and Acting (2). Shit, who cares if the acting is a little off. We want to see good fucking characters. Take Roddy Piper as Nada in THEY LIVE. Ballsy, hilarious, plenty of great lines.
--- Story (2). It is an art to put a story together that always maintains attention. And it is nice to be surprised. But we also want it to "deliver the goods". You want a horror to shock, a thriller to thrill, and a comedy to make you laugh. Fuck the ending and fuck it if you predict what's gonna happen... you're just smart. Score the movie on whether you liked the whole damn movie.
--- Direction (2). Cinema is a visual art. We want a nice range of meaningful shots. Angles too, please. A low angle to make someone look powerful. A close up in dramatic moments. We don't like handheld camera because it's lazy (most modern British films) unless it makes complete sense in the story (BLAIR WITCH, PUSHER).
--- Sound and dialogue (2). A natty soundtrack can liven up a film and add a lot of drama. Watch the slow-mo walking scene in RESERVOIR DOGS without the music. Same with the ear-chop scene. Tarantino is a master with music. Equally, a good script is wonderful. BARFLY has that great, great script. Who cares if the actors don't deliver it in the way Denzel would. It has heart.
--- Editing and Mise-en-scene (2). Editing can make a film exciting (JAWS). It can make it sad (THE FUNERAL). It's an art form that's forgotten. Stack up the brilliant action scenes in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK with the confusing mess in TRANSFORMERS. And light the damn movie properly. Use shadows (film noir) and colour filters (SEVEN) but only to enhance the mood of certain scenes. They should push emotion. They shouldn't just be there because it looks "fucking cool."

Alright, let's attack MAN ON FIRE using this approach:

--- Acting and Characters (2/2). Denzel can still act, and Dakota Fanning is a pretty cool little girl character. She's sassy like Matilda in LEON. And it's nice to see a hero who at least drinks. Mickey Rourke and Christopher Walken are also in it with a couple of nice characters.
--- Story (1/2). MAN ON FIRE is pleasantly like DEATH WISH and DEATH SENTENCE. But it doesn't always deliver the goods, despite a couple of punchy scenes. Such as a bomb up one guy's ass and a guy with his fingers being chopped off to get him to talk. The problem with this is...
--- Direction (0/2). MAN ON FIRE is one of those lurching, terrible movies where the camera never stops moving even during sombre scenes. It's so desperate to maintain the attention of the low-attention span audience, it completely forgets to tell the fucking story. We have extreme close-ups of eyes and teeth during happy scenes, and then long shots during dramatic scenes. It's directed with the care of someone on cocaine who thinks his audience is snorting as they watch it. I'm sure Tony Scott doesn't do cocaine, and he directed TRUE ROMANCE (albeit his only good movie), so why this abject shit?
--- Sound and dialogue (1/2). There's some nice interplay between Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning in the first half, and there are a few nice OTT quotes from Walken ("Creasey's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece!") but then it sinks into po-faced cliches. If this was Ash in EVIL DEAD 3 delivering them, you'd take it as a joke, but not in MAN ON FIRE. Here's one: "Revenge is a meal best served cold." The music is moronic throughout, often ruining twists by going dramatic when fuck-all is happening yet.
--- Editing and mise-en-scene (0/2). More cocaine based stuff. Universally frantic, usually for no good reason. Combined with - and I've never seen this before - animated subtitles! The subtitles are part of the whole coke charade, desperately trying to gyrate to keep boneheads interested. When Creasey is shot, it's hard to see where the hell he's been shot. Look, Hitchcock used a little bit of leeway while editing to confuse us (PSYCHO shower scene) but he builds emotions beautifully through canny editing.

--- Total Murder Slim score: 4/10 ("It's like that gal in HUMAN CENTIPEDE... not the worst but still, sadly, full of shit." - MurderSlim.com)

If you've read this far, hopefully you've agreed with a lot of what's been written. If you haven't, check out the next issue of THE SAVAGE KICK... we'll get you into the true nature of being outside then. And people just read more when stuff is on paper. That's why we do it.

Look, MAN ON FIRE - while not completely terrible - is still essentially a fairly bad movie. Spread the word.

Hell, the facts prove it... don't they?

Review by Steve Hussy