28 August 2005

Old dogs and new tricks

Well, I didn't want to do two movie posts in a row like this, but last night I caught the entirety of Man on Fire for the first time (I'd seen bits and pieces of it on pay-cable several times, though) and realized that I just had to put down a few thoughts about the flick. (Warning here: I'm going to reveal some plot details, so those who haven't seen it but plan to should probably back away now.)

First of all, it's got impeccable credentials on the acting side. Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken, Dakota Fanning, even Mark Anthony are great actors who are working at the top of their game here. (Tell you what, just check out the IMDB listing for the flick here for a detailed cast listing.) Washington in particular gives one of his best performances as a very human monster of an antihero, blunt and bloated at times, but sensitive and heartfelt at others. It's also got the great writer/and-sometimes-director Brian Helgeland (wrote and directed A Knight's Tale, best remembered by me as the writer of the utterly brilliant LA Confidential) on the screenplay side. Helgeland doesn't do his best work here; the film is very formulaic in its structure and relies heavily on overdone cliches (killer with a heart of gold, etc.), but for a genre flick it more-or-less gets the job done, and certain sequences (of both the action and character-based variety) are among the best I've seen of the type.

But the thing that really made me want to write about this movie was the direction. Tony Scott is probably best known as the guy who directed Top Gun and for his long-time partnership with Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson (before the death of the latter), and given his career there was really no reason to ever think that he'd do anything really special with his life, other than make really good examples of high-octane action pictures. And there's nothing wrong with that -- Lord knows that really solid genre flicks are as hard to make as anything else, and action filmmakers in particular tend to reduce their flicks to overedited mush with a lack of anything cohesive to the story. Most action movies are just plain bad, and even if Tony Scott was producing mediocre product, it was still better than most of the junk out there.

But Man on Fire almost takes its basic source material (I haven't read the book, so I'm referring to the screenplay as-filmed here) and raises it to a whole other level. Scott uses the appearance of hand-cranked cameras, multiple exposures, and whiplash editing to build whole nuances of meaning and structure onto what is, really, a very trite and overdone story about murder and mayhem. I am always the most respectful of artists who, in whichever medium they choose, work to actively expand and redefine the very language of that medium -- in the filmmaking world, historical examples being many of the men I praised in my last post. There are only a handful of filmmakers today that I feel are honestly expanding the horizons of cinema in this way (Darren Aronofsky, Paul Thomas Anderson, Oliver Stone, David Fincher and Quentin Tarantino to a lesser extent), and most of these filmmakers are working in the doldrums of the industry, working for peanuts to expand their art. Tony Scott, I must say, impresses me with the way he is working on just such a project, and in a major studio film, no-less.

I'm really excited at the prospect of seeing Scott's upcoming Domino now, for I believe that even if the film fails, that it will at least be an interesting failure.

Okay, no more movie posts for awhile. Hopefully in the next day or so I can get one out about the nature of scientific education and dissemination of information, and the way people misunderstand scientific progress by oversimplistic thinking. 'Til then.

1 comment:

Beth said...

"Washington in particular gives one of his best performances as a very human monster of an antihero, blunt and bloated at times, but sensitive and heartfelt at others."

Heh, guess we know why Denzel was such a grouch in this role, he ran out of Tums.

Just kidding, Daniel. ;-)