Film: Man on Fire

April 4, 2022

Diving through the archives in search of new filmic obscurities brought me most recently to Man on Fire (1987), which opens with a certain thriller/intrigue promise that it doesn’t pay off. It takes us to the crime-riddled world of Italy, where a traumatized veteran and former CIA operative named Creasy (Scott Glenn) reluctantly accepts a simple “babysitting” assignment as a bodyguard for the daughter of a wealthy Lake Como family. Creasy is trepidatious about providing security for children – a scenario that conjures dark memories for him – but ultimately, he falls prey to the charms of young Sam (Jade Malle), for whom he becomes something of a surrogate father-figure. His worst fears are realized, though, when Sam is kidnapped by ransom-seeking criminals led by Conti (Danny Aiello), propelling Creasy into a one-man-army assault on a mafia organization.

Man on Fire spins its early mystery with a certain stylish elan, one of those odd eighties relics that feels older than it is, but its aura of intrigue evaporates rather quickly under weighty, conspicuous direction and an uninteresting, straightforward script. The story relies heavily on a certain father-daughter chemistry between Creasy and Sam, but the relationship comes off a bit icky, and Glenn and Malle don’t really sell the connection. There is some appealing cinematography here and there, mostly conveyed through director Élie Chouraqui’s love affair with the opulent chateau where much of it is set, along with scenic surrounding environs. It’s also fun to see Joe Pesci turn up in an obscure early appearance. But as throwback thrillers go, this one’s a dud, neither complex or exciting enough to warrant much attention.