When it was in theaters back in 2004, I remember having mild interest in seeing Man on Fire, but because no one really hyped it up and I was in the process of helping to plan my wedding at the time, I didn’t end up seeing it that summer.

I don’t know if the movie would’ve had the same impact back then as it did when I watched it while holding my son – who was less than 6 weeks old at the time, but I really enjoyed this movie.

In Man on Fire, Denzell Washington gives one of his best performances as a former soldier battling his own demons who is presented with the opportunity to act as a bodyguard for a family in Mexico City.  Dakota Fanning nearly accomplishes the tough feat of matching the fantastic job she did in I Am Sam in this role as the young daughter on whom most of Denzell’s efforts are focused.   It is a tale of corruption in Mexico and a young girl’s influence which spurs one man’s unintended quest for redemption.

Marc Antony, Radha Mitchell, Mickey Rourke and Christopher Walken all give quality performances in their supporting roles, but it’s lesser knowns Giancarlo Giannini (a detective who is part of a special investigations unit) and Rachel Ticotin (investigative reporter) who really help balance out the movie and play a huge part in humanizing and driving the plot.

An under-rated part of the film is the inclusion of some haunting, aggressive, gritty and appropriately toned Nine Inch Nails music that most viewers might not even notice.

Until I was discussing this movie with a movie buff friend of mine, I didn’t realize that there is a 1987 version of this movie available.  While I plan to watch it at some point, I was assured that the recent version is much better than the result of efforts 17 years prior.  (user polling on IMDB.com agrees, giving the 2004 a rating of 7.7 out of 10, whereas the 1987 version only received a 5.5)

I would recommend this film to anyone who isn’t bothered by a gritty, intense movie with a couple scenes of moderately graphic violence.  It’s rated R for a reason, but nothing involved in the film seemed gratuitous.

Definitely a potential Best Picture Nominee for my Quest of 2010.

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