Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Man on Fire

Man on Fire
seen on TV @ Spike

Director Tony Scott died last year, as you probably know. I had nothing against him as a director; I really like Crimson Tide and True Romance, and I can watch most of his other movies if there's nothing else on (they certainly get played on cable often enough), though he was rarely someone I went out of my way for. 

He tended to be flashier than his brother Ridley, and his films were almost always heavy on the testosterone (though he did do The Hunger with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon before he got his rep as an action director, so there's that).

Like I said, though, his films were entertaining, especially if all you wanna do is kick back with a few of your friends for a couple of hours and get your fill of high-powered action and suspense. Scott's films may have had tortured, convoluted plots at times, but unlike Michael Bay, I rarely felt like Scott was insulting my intelligence in terms of story or characters. A movie like Top Gun seems campy now, in retrospect, but I remember when it first came out. It was the perfect film for the Reagan 80s, and its iconography still looms large today (for better or for worse).

Scott made five movies with Denzel Washington, including four of his last five features. I didn't see Man on Fire when it came out, but I had heard it was pretty good, so when I saw that it was on TV last night, I gave it a shot. It's basically a revenge flick, but Denzel is pretty hardcore in it, to a degree we rarely see in his action movies. 

I mean, he tortures dudes, blows up cars with a missile launcher, takes all kinds of damage and delivers some damage of his own and I'm not talking about the "safe," semi-glamorous type, either. This is a brutal, hard-R movie where people die or get hurt in gruesome ways. But they all deserve it, so it's alright, kids!

I got the impression Scott was trying to experiment with his visual style in Fire. He pulls out all sorts of weird and wacky stylistic stunts - jump cuts, negative imagery, slo-mo, monochrome - all in this bizarre kind of hodgepodge that, I gotta say, didn't add much to the story. In Enemy of the State, this sort of thing made a kind of sense; that film was about modern surveillance techniques in a digitized world, and having a heavily stylized look was more appropriate, but here it just gets in the way and calls more attention to itself than it should. I liked Fire in spite of all that stuff, not because of it.

One thing I can respect about Scott's films is that they kept alive the paradigm of the 80s-model action film: stunt-heavy action, clear-cut good guys and bad guys, and A-list superstars. That last part is especially important. Superstars are less of a requirement in action films these days, it seems, and to someone like me who grew up with the Arnie-Sly-Bruce paradigm, this strikes me as a bit disappointing. I admit that these kinds of action movies hold less of an appeal to me today than they did when I was thirteen and they were all the rage, but at the same time, I'd hate to see them go away. 

Scott was one of the last action-movie guys who consistently cast A-listers, and I suspect that was a big part of his appeal. Now he's gone, and the current paradigm is computer-generated superheroes where the characters are the attraction, as opposed to the stars. Times change, I know that, and what's cool one year is passe the next - law of the jungle - but it's a little disappointing all the same.

So here's to you, Tony Scott. Thanks for keeping on as long as you did.

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