Film: Man on Fire

Lisa Ramos: "What are you gonna do?"
John Creasey: What I do best. I'm gonna kill 'em. Anyone that was involved. Anybody who profited from it. Anybody who opens their eyes at me.

Man On Fire is a 2004 film directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington. It is based on A.J. Quinnel's Man on Fire novel, which was already adapted into film in 1987.

In Mexico City, criminal gangs have been kidnapping rich people and their families for the ransom money. On the advice of his lawyer, Mexican businessman Samuel Ramos, like other wealthy people, hires a bodyguard to protect his nine-year-old daughter Lupita "Pita" Ramos (Dakota Fanning), and to be able to renew the family's ransom insurance. The head of an executive security firm, Paul Rayburn (Christopher Walken) suggests that Ramos hire Rayburn's old CIA buddy John Creasy (Denzel Washington).

However, Creasy has since become uninterested in life. He is burned out from all the death and horror and has taken to alcoholism to ease the burden. Creasy is not interested in bodyguard work and even less with the youngster, but he needs a job. Creasy's initial impatience slowly fades as he finds himself opening up to the child.

Then Lupita gets kidnapped.

Her ransom does not go as planned.

And everything goes to hell.

If you came here to read about a the trope in which someone gets set on fire, that's elsewhere.


This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Lupita's dad, Samuel Ramos (Ettore Balletto in the novel) who arranged for his daughter to get kidnapped as part of an insurance scam. Justified in his mind since he thought there'd be no harm to Lupita, but still crosses the Moral Event Horizon.
  • Ass Shove: Creasy's trick with the C4.
  • Amoral Attorney: Jordan Kalfus, Samuel Ramos' lawyer, stole the ransom money before its delivery to the kidnappers. Ramos kills him for this when he finds out.
  • Anti-Hero: John Creasy.
  • As the Good Book Says: Creasy and Sister Anna, the Headmistress of Pita's school.
  • The Atoner: Creasy arguably. Lampshaded when he asks "Do you think God'll forgive us for what we've done?".
  • Bad Ass: Creasy through and through.
  • Badass Boast:
    Creasy (interrupting an old lady telling him that the Bible tells people to forgive those who wronged them): Forgiveness is between them and God. It's my job to arrange the meeting.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Miguel Manzano, the only effective police officer willing to help Creasy, is basically a pervert. He's also the one who eventually kills the Big Bad in the epilogue.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Creasy starts out the film with a beard.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: One of the reasons why Creasy loves Pita. And the reason why he's angry when they hurt her.
    Rayburn: She showed him it was OK to live again.
    • And later on.
    Pita: I love you, Creasy. And you love me too, don't you?
    Creasy: Yes, I do. With all my heart, Pita. Go.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The movie: After Creasy hunts down and kills everyone who profited from Pita's kidnapping save for the Big Bad, he finds out that Pita is alive. Creasy knowingly trades his life for hers, and shares a heartbreaking moment with her before she is reunited with her mother. Creasy dies soon after, though so does the Big Bad responsible for Pita's kidnapping, as well as many others.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Lots. Paired off with those nifty, dynamic subs that fly in the direction of the person saying them. Justified since Creasy himself can speak Spanish and mostly upper class and police Creasy deals with, so most people will at least understand English.
  • Blood In The Water: We keep seeing flashback-like scenes of Creasy jumping into a pool, blood coming out of his wounds. He's doing so to sterilize his still-unhealed wounds. It's also to remind us that he's slowly bleeding to death.
  • Bungled Suicide: Creasy tries to commit suicide by pistol, but the bullet he used turns out to be defective. Subverted though, as Ramos was able to use the bullet to commit suicide.
  • Cheerful Child: Lupita's cheerfulness eventually chips away at Creasy's hard exterior, making him positive about life again and becoming something of a substitute father for her. This leads him to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge when Pita is captured and killed by a kidnapping ring.
  • Chekhov's Bullet: The bullet that stopped Creasy's suicide is later used by Ramos to commit suicide.
  • Cigarette Burns: Pita notices that Creasy has scars from cigarette burns on his hands, hinted to be a remnant from his past as a soldier, and asks them where he got them. He tells her she doesn't need to know and should treat him as an employee, not a friend.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: "I will take your family apart, piece by piece. Do you hear me? PIECE BY PIECE!"
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: The exact moment where everything goes to hell is the moment where a secret fraternity of Mexican Dirty Cops barges into the money exchange to try to steal the money, killing one of The Voice's family members and making him decide to kill Pita in retaliation although the fact that he decides to keep her alive is not reassuring in any way. Creasy discovers later that Kalfus had backstabbed Mr. Ramos long before that, by stealing half of the ransom money while it was being prepared for transport.
  • Death by Adaptation: Creasy, who officially "dies" in the book but is revealed to have faked his death, and gone on to have other adventures.
  • Determinator: The reason the movie is named as such. It's so bad/good that Interpol doesn't even want to interfere with him.
  • Dirty Cop: The Mexico City police is full of them. The kidnappers outright hire off-duty cops to assist in Pita's kidnapping.
  • Does She Have A Sister: Said by Creasy after being introduced to his friend Rayburn's wife. He's not serious though.
  • Earn Your Bittersweet Ending:
    • The novel. Pinta Balletto, the novel's little girl character, was raped and killed, but Creasy made sure every one that profited from her tragic end paid for it. He regains some semblance of humanity and ends up with a love interest, too.
    • The movie has one too. Because of Creasy's slaughter of the entire organization, he is able to trade his life for Pita's and she is able to go home mentally scarred, but alive. But she has lost her friend and protector and her family has fallen apart. But Creasy is at least able to rest knowing that she is safe and the people who hurt her are dead.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: 'The Voice', the mastermind behind the kidnapping scheme, turns out to be a divorced man with a family he deeply cares about. He's shown with some of his children, while Creasy specifically gets him to release Pita by threatening to cut up his family and starts with his brother.
  • Fingore:
    • The main character tortures a corrupt Mexican policeman by removing his fingers one by one and cauterizing the wound with a cigar lighter.
    • In the climax, he's talking on the phone with the guy he's after, and holding the guy's brother hostage. When the guy tries to buy him off, the protagonist holds the phone up so the brother can talk and blows his fingers off with a shotgun.
  • Genki Girl: Lupita, and adorably so.
  • Grumpy Bear: Creasy. It's even lampshaded by Lupita.
  • The Hero Dies: Creasy dies at the end, but he accomplishes all his objectives by taking out almost all of the kidnapping organization and even saving Pita's life. His death is also a "screw you!" to the bad guys, since he dies before the Voice (the brains behind the operation) can get his hands on him. The Voice himself is killed by Detective Manzano on the same day.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique:
  • Just Following Orders: Attempted to be used by the leader of the secret Mexican fraternity of Dirty Cops (being more specific, he says he's "just a professional" and that the apparent death of Lupita Ramos was just a snafu). To say that this pisses off John Creasy (who says he's heard this excuse from everybody else he's interrogated so far and is sick and tired of it), is a massive Understatement.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: Creasy does this with a slight variation: the bullet in the gun is the one that misfired earlier when he tried to kill himself, and he explains that "a bullet always knows" if it should be fired, implying that if the target shouldn't die, he won't. This time, it works.
  • Legion of Lost Souls: Creasy apparently trained in jungle warfare with the French Foreign Legion, according to his resume.
  • Lock and Load Montage: A variation. We see Creasy buy the guns alongside other pieces of equipment (like additional cell phones presumably for calling without being traced), most of which get used at some point afterwards in the movie. Set to Nine Inch Nails' "The Mark Has Been Made".
  • Massive Multiplayer Scam: Horribly, brutally averted. The only person in on the kidnapping scheme who even remotely cares about Pita's life and welfare is her own father, and probably The Voice, if nothing else but out of professionalism, up until one of his family members is killed by the Colliding Criminal Conspiracies, while everybody else is in for the money and is willing to backstab the rest and allow Pita's death to get it. Not surprisingly, Creasy kills them all in revenge.
  • Mutilation Interrogation: John Creasy does this several times in the movie to people involved in the kidnapping ring.
    • He tapes a guy's hands to the steering wheel. He cuts off the man's fingers one by one, slowly, and then cauterizes the wound with the car's cigarette lighter immediately. Then he gives the guy a smoke and pushes the car off a cliff (though at that point the guy was just glad it was over).
    • He blows off a man's fingers with a shotgun.
  • No Endor Holocaust: Creasy enters a nice elderly couple's apartment to attack a motorcade from above with a RPG launcher. That particular kind of RPG has a (relatively) very small backblast, but using it in that small room would still have ruined Gramma & Grampa's day. Based on the rest of the movie, Creasy probably would have survived the ensuing fire.
  • Noodle Incident: The large, ugly scar on the back of Creasy's hand goes unexplained, even when Pita pointedly asks about it.
  • Nothing Personal: The people involved with Pita's kidnapping that Creasy tracks down all insist that it was not personal, but just business. Eventually Creasy just gets sick of this response, warning the last person that uses it.
  • Not So Stoic:
    • Kidnappers act all tough, relying on fear tactics to achieve their goals, but once they, or their loved ones, are at the hands of Creasy, they're reduced to a quivering mass of flesh.
    • Creasy is a depressed, stoic professional early in the movie, but Pita eventually softens his heart. After she is kidnapped he goes through Tranquil Fury mode the rest of the film.
  • Off with His Head!: This is how Jordan Kalfus dies. Creasy finds his decapitated corpse floating in his pool, with a katana lying nearby.
  • Omniscient Morality License: Subverted. "Do you think God'll forgive us for what we've done?" "No." Which is an interesting take on the concept. If he's already irredeemable, there's no reason to have any moral compunction left.
    "Forgiveness is between them and God. It's my job to arrange the meeting."
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The original novel is worse than the film.
  • Papa Wolf: Goes straight from Shell-Shocked Senior into One-Man Army with Omniscient Morality License. And it is awesome.
    Rayburn: And they're gonna wish they never touched a hair on her head.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: What Creasy does to the kidnappers.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    See you in the next life... I can guarentee you won't be lonely.
    Elderly Man (In Spanish): In the church, they say to forgive...
    Creasy (Interrupting in English): Forgiveness is between them and God. It's my job to arrange the meeting
    (Hands him a pistol and a dud bullet) You know what they say...a bullet doesn't lie...It didn't work for me, maybe it'll work for you... It works
  • Professional Killer: Creasy
    Rayburn: A man can be an artist... in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasy's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece.
  • Ransom Drop: We see two during the movie (three, if we count the exchange of Creasy for Pita), one during the prologue which goes right (which also showcases the way that The Voice and his organization function) and one that Goes Horribly Wrong because of Colliding Criminal Conspiracies (the Ramos exchange).
  • Retired Monster: Creasy knows he is. He's not happy about it to say the least, but has little trouble making everyone else unhappy about it when motivated. See title.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Holy shit. He takes out a secret society of corrupt policemen, the kidnapping organization that took Lupita, and HER OWN DAD (although that was more of an assisted suicide).
  • Semper Fi: According to a glance at his resume early on in the movie, Creasy led Force Reconnaissance platoons in combat. The only U.S. military unit generally referred to as "Force Reconnaissance" belongs to the U.S. Marine Corps. Closer examination indicates that he was trained in Quantico, among other places.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Creasy. He was actually Driven to Suicide but the gun didn't fire when he pulled the trigger.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Happens a lot throughout the film, especially jarring to hear Mickey, by Toni Basil while a man has body parts cut off.
  • Spared By Adaptation: Pita. Her counterpart in the book on which the film is based accidentally dies when her kidnapping is botched.
  • Taking You with Me: An alternate ending showcases that Creasy did the C-4 trick with himself, to go off when he meets The Voice. The resulting explosion kills both men.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Pita. She survives though.
    Pita:Dear God, I do not ask for health or wealth. People ask you so often that you can't have any left. Give me, God, what else you have. Give me what no-one else asks for. Amen.
  • Tranquil Fury: In the wake of Pita's abduction, Creasy's Roaring Rampage of Revenge contains elements of this as he calmly tortures and kills the various members of La Hermandad in turn. It's only when he's talking to the Voice over the phone does he finally lose his composure and threatens the Voice's family, as he's been shot again, and knows that he's running out of time.
  • Truth in Television:
    • Mexico City has a really high kidnapping rate per capita and this is with 95% of 'em going unreported to the authorities. The fact that the Mexican police are known for being corrupt doesn't help.
    • Same goes for Creasy's torture techniques. Kidnappers often do this to their victims and send the lopped off ears/fingers to their relatives, along with the warning that they should hurry up and recover what's left of 'em.
    • There's a point where Creasy is practicing his draw, and he draws his gun close to the body before pushing it out. This is actually a technique used by bodyguards and in close-quarter combat.
  • Unflinching Walk: Creasy does one of these after he blows up the police chief.
  • Unintentionally Notorious Crime: Variation. While kidnapping a little girl is by no means a "small" crime, the fact that this happened in Mexico City (which we are provided an Info Dump at the beginning explaining the absurdly high kidnapping percentage and how it's a normal criminal business around there) means that it's given a slightly-more-than-token-effort because it's a little girl, but nothing else. The trouble for the criminals, though, is that they went and pissed off the wrong Retired Badass while performing this crime...