Sunday, April 25, 2004

Revenge trip

Man on Fire (2004)I just got back from seeing the film Man on Fire. The screen adaptation of the A.J. Quinnell novel has received mixed reviews, but I found it remained generally true to the spirit of the book.

Creasy (Denzel Washington) is a broken-down, alcoholic, ex-special forces assassin. Visiting his friend Rayburn (Christopher Walken) in Mexico City, he ends up taking a job as a bodyguard to make ends meet. A kidnapping spree has spread throughout Latin America and a wealthy young couple hires Creasy to fulfill the terms of a kidnap-insurance policy.

Pita (Dakota Fanning)'s spunk and unabashed friendliness slowly penetrate Creasy's veil of pain and alcoholism. Soon, he's not only protecting her, but is also coaching her at swimming and helping with studies. Then, in the turning point of the film, despite Creasy's quick-witted defense, Pita is kidnapped from her piano lesson and Creasy left for dead with multiple gunshot wounds.

Corrupt cops, mobsters, and other officials are all taking their cuts from the kidnapping game. As Creasy begins to recover, he sets off on the ultimate roadtrip of revenge. And all hell breaks loose.

I rated this film four stars. Tony Scott has to tone down the nausea-inducing quick cuts, fades, over-exposures, and other tricks of the trade. When he gets into story-telling mode, he does his best work, as Fanning and Washington are nearly perfect in their roles. Do yourself a service and read the books. Nothing matches the entire Creasy series.

A.J. Quinnell's Man on Fire

Stupid people, behaving stupidly

Nothing PersonalJason Starr's Nothing Personal is a pure crime novel, plain and simple. Less noir and more documentary, it describes the lives of two families, the DePinos and the Sussmans. Joey DePino is a working stiff with a major league gambling problem and a violent loanshark after him. His wife, Melissa, is disenchanted with her life, especially as she sees friends like Leslie Sussman get ahead. Leslie is married to David, an ad exec, and living in a ritzy Upper East Side apartment.

But David's life isn't all peaches and cream. A beautiful Asian co-worker, with whom he's had an affair, has turned psychopathic. As Joey struggles to pay off his debts and David grapples with having his affair exposed, things go south in a hurry. And, typical of Starr's work, lives are lost in the process.

This is Starr's second book and, while not as cleverly plotted as Cold Caller, you'll get diabolical pleasure out of watching some stupid people do irrevocably stupid things. It's realistic, compelling stuff and Starr is a consistently entertaining author.

Jason Starr's Nothing Personal

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