Man on Fire (2004 film)

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Man on Fire
Man on fireposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTony Scott
Produced byLucas Foster
Arnon Milchan
Tony Scott
Screenplay byBrian Helgeland
Based onMan on Fire
by A. J. Quinnell
StarringDenzel Washington
Dakota Fanning
Christopher Walken
Giancarlo Giannini
Radha Mitchell
Marc Anthony
Rachel Ticotin
Mickey Rourke
Music byHarry Gregson-Williams
Lisa Gerrard
CinematographyPaul Cameron
Edited byChristian Wagner
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • April 23, 2004 (2004-04-23)
Running time
146 minutes
CountriesUnited States
United Kingdom[1]
Budget$70 million
Box office$130.3 million

Man on Fire is a 2004 action thriller film[2] directed by Tony Scott from a screenplay by Brian Helgeland, and based on the 1980 novel of the same name by A. J. Quinnell. The novel had previously been adapted into a feature film in 1987. In this film, Denzel Washington portrays John Creasy, a despondent, alcoholic former U.S. Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance Captain and CIA Special Activities Division officer – turned bodyguard, who goes on a revenge rampage after his charge, nine-year-old Lupita "Pita" Ramos (Dakota Fanning), is abducted in Mexico City. The supporting cast includes Christopher Walken, Radha Mitchell, Giancarlo Giannini, Marc Anthony, Rachel Ticotin and Mickey Rourke.

A modest box office success, the film received mixed reviews.


John Creasy (Washington), arrives in Juarez to visit his old friend Rayburn (Walken). Creasy is clearly in poor condition, and in a moment of reflection with Rayburn, refers to a past life they lived that may be beyond forgiveness. Rayburn, concerned for his old friend, convinces Creasy to interview for a bodyguard position that Creasy is overqualified for. Creasy agrees, and interviews with Samuel Ramos (Anthony) and his American wife Lisa (Mitchell), an automaker based in Mexico City. Due to the notoriously high number of kidnappings in the city, Ramos intends for Creasy to protect his young daughter Lupita “Pita” Ramos (Fanning). Ramos is impressed with Creasy’s résumé which includes extensive counterintelligence work, and despite Creasy’s admitted drinking problem, decides to hire him.

Creasy is initially cold and aloof with Pita, despite her attempts to befriend him. Creasy drives Pita to and from school as well as piano lessons and other appointments to ensure her safety, and spends his nights drinking in his small residence on the Ramos property. He eventually reaches a low point wherein he attempts suicide by gunshot, but the nine millimeter round fails to discharge. Distraught, he calls Rayburn in the middle of the night to ask if a bullet has ever failed to fire for him, despite a dimple in the primer. Rayburn confirms it has and reminds Creasy that “a bullet always tells the truth.” Creasy saves the bullet as a reminder. Eventually he takes notice of Pita’s swimming talent, and helps her train to place higher in her competitions. Through the training and Creasy’s help in other areas, the two bond and form a friendship.

One day while Creasy waits outside of Pita’s piano lesson, Creasy notes unusual police activity outside of the building when a patrol unit arrives and then repositions down the street. As Pita exits her teacher’s home, Creasy sees kidnappers moving in to take Pita and fires his gun into the air, hoping the shot would trigger a flight response similar to the starting gun for swimming. Pita runs while Creasy exchanges gunfire with the kidnappers and the police, killing the officers and shooting at least one of the kidnappers, however he is shot in the chest himself and collapses. Pita runs to Creasy’s body and is snatched by the kidnappers who flee the scene.

Creasy wakes up in a hospital in police custody, who are claiming to the press that Creasy is a killer responsible for the deaths of the two officers at the scene of the Ramos abduction. Reporter for "La Reforma", Mariana Garcia Guerrero (Ticotin) questions the police chief’s narrative that the officers were heroes, asking why they were at the scene of the crime when they were off duty. Her informant, AFI director Miguel Manzano (Giannini), asserts that the officers were known for being corrupt and are now celebrated for being dead.

Meanwhile, Samuel and Lisa’s home is turned into an abduction headquarters for the Federal Judicial Police’s anti-kidnapping division headed by Victor Fuentes (Ochoa). There they try to negotiate with the anonymous ringleader of the kidnappings known only as “The Voice”. He demands a $10 million ransom to be delivered by Samuel in cash. However, when the drop is made a group of unknown men ambush The Voice’s men and a shootout ensues. The Voice calls Fuentes and the Ramos family and announces that the ambush means the death of Pita, then hangs up.

At the hospital, Rayburn waits at Creasy’s bedside. When Creasy finally wakes, Rayburn informs him of Pita’s death and tells him what went wrong. He then tells Creasy that he’s unsafe in the hospital and has him moved to a veterinarian clinic to recover. Manzano has Creasy flip through a binder of suspect mug shots to identify the kidnappers, however he intentionally neglects to mention when he recognizes one. Convincing Rayburn to help him leave the clinic, Creasy returns to the crime scene to investigate, and is approached by Guerrero, who offers her help. Telling him that all of the corrupt police are protected by a brotherhood called La Hermandad. Creasy denies he’s looking into things, and leaves, having Rayburn take him to an arms dealer where he purchases an arsenal of small arms, rocket launchers, and explosives.

He proceeds to capture and interrogate his only lead, Jorge Gonzalez (Zaragoza) a Federal policeman whom he had recognized in Manzano’s records. Creasy duct tapes Gonzalez’s hands to the steering wheel of his vehicle and extracts information from him by severing his fingers one at a time and searing the wounds with the car’s cigarette lighter. Gonzalez explains how the operation is compartmentalized, and points Creasy to a popular rave site in Neza. Creasy kills Gonzalez and destroys the vehicle with him inside. In the club, Creasy interrogates the club owner “Jersey Boy” (Paraventi) who tells him that Fuentes is involved and responsible for the ambush that lead to Pita’s death, after he kills Jersey Boy he rescues a young girl who was held in captivity at the club and destroys the building after forcing out all the ravers. He rendezvous with Guerrero, giving her an ATM card he retrieved from Jersey Boy’s girlfriend, hoping to gain intel from the records. He then hands the girl over to Guerrero to reunite with her family and tells Guerrero that Fuentes is involved, she warns Creasy that Fuentes is difficult to reach because he lives in a police compound and travels by motorcade.

Creasy launches an assault on Fuentes motorcade by destroying the lead car with a rocket and firing on Fuentes’ car, killing his driver and security. He then hijacks Fuentes vehicle with him inside and hides out under an overpass where he interrogates him. Fuentes divulges that only half of the ransom money was actually in the bags, that each bag only contained $2.5 million rather than five, and the rest was just scrap paper. When Creasy asked why, Fuentes suggests that he suspects Ramos’ family attorney Jordan Kalfus (Rourke). Creasy departs, leaving Fuentes tied to his car with a timed explosive charge inserted into his rectum, which detonates as Creasy walks away.

Creasy arrives at Kalfus’ house where he finds his beheaded corpse floating in his swimming pool, and a bloodied Samurai sword lying nearby. When Creasy searches Kalfus’ home office space, he discovers a fax listing phone numbers and bank transfers to Samuel. Creasy returns to the Ramos residence and presses Samuel over the situation, where he confesses to both Creasy and Lisa that he had arranged for the kidnapping so he could collect on the kidnappers insurance policy in order to pay off the business debts that he was left by his late father. However, he was told by Kalfus that Pita would be kept safe, happy, and healthy for no more than three days and then she would be returned, but Kalfus lied which lead to Pita’s death.

Lisa demands Creasy kill Samuel and walks away. Creasy leaves Samuel with his pistol and the bullet that had failed to go off when he attempted suicide, repeating what Rayburn had told him earlier that a bullet always tells the truth, then leaves. Samuel loads the bullet into the pistol and kills himself.

Creasy contacts Guerrero for information on the bank records taken from the ATM card, and she tells him that the account is registered to Maria Rosas Sanchez (Hernandez). AFI is surveilling the barrio under the pretense of vaccinations for the neighborhood. Creasy gains entry to the residence and encounters Aurelio Rosas Sanchez (Camilo), Maria’s brother-in-law, who shoots him in the chest. Creasy disables Aurelio’s getaway car and drags him to the roof of Maria’s home where he calls Aurelio’s brother Daniel (Sosa), who is The Voice, and threatens to kill Daniel’s whole family including his brother and pregnant wife. Daniel proposes an exchange, revealing that Pita is in fact alive and that she would be no good to him dead. Creasy agrees to the exchange, himself and Aurelio for Pita, and meets Daniel’s men outside of Puebla.

Lisa arrives at the exchange location, and holds Aurelio at gunpoint while Creasy crosses an overpass to surrender to Daniel’s men. They release Pita who meets Creasy halfway across the overpass, the two hug and Creasy tells Pita he loves her then sends her to her mother who releases Aurelio, gathers Pita and leaves. Creasy hands himself over to Daniel’s men, and dies in the car from his wounds en route to Daniel.

An epilogue reveals that Manzano killed Daniel shortly thereafter, with official reports stating that Daniel was killed during the course of arrest.


  • Denzel Washington as John W. Creasy, a former CIA operative and U.S. Marine Force Recon Captain
  • Dakota Fanning as Lupita (Pita) Ramos
  • Radha Mitchell as Lisa Ramos. Lisa originates from Houston, Texas.[3] Eric Harrison of the Houston Chronicle described Lisa as an "American trophy wife with a Southern accent that seems to come and go."[4]
  • Christopher Walken as Paul Rayburn, who runs a security firm in Mexico. Marlon Brando was originally considered for the role, but his poor health (which lead to his death) prevented him from taking the role.
  • Marc Anthony as Samuel Ramos
  • Giancarlo Giannini as Miguel Manzano, director of the AFI. Tony Scott stated "Giancarlo loves women, as did this character."[5]
  • Mickey Rourke as Jordan Kalfus, Samuel Ramos' lawyer. Kalfus and Samuel Ramos's father were best friends, and therefore Kalfus has a close relationship with Samuel. Mickey Rourke stated that Kalfus has "a responsibility to his father, to him, to look out for his well-being."[6] Therefore, Kalfus "[wants] to be there for him" when Ramos "gets his head underwater a little bit".[6]
  • Rachel Ticotin as Mariana Garcia Guerrero, a reporter for the Diario Reforma
  • Roberto Sosa as Daniel Sanchez,[7] "The Voice". He is based on a real kidnapper, Daniel Arizmendi López.[8]
  • Jesús Ochoa as Victor Fuentes, a lieutenant in the Anti-Kidnapping Division of the Federal Judicial Police and the head of the criminal "La Hermandad" syndicate
  • Gero Camilo as Aurelio Sanchez. Based on Aurelio Arizmendi López, the brother of Daniel Arizmendi López.[9]
  • Rosa María Hernández as Maria Rosas Sanchez, wife of The Voice.
  • Charles Paraventi as Jersey Boy, proprietor of the rave in Neza and the an accomplice to Pita's kidnapping.
  • Mario Zaragoza as Jorge Gonzalez, a Federal Judicial Policeman and member of the criminal "La Hermandad" syndicate, who physically kidnaps Pita off the street


Tony Scott, the film's director, had tried to adapt the 1980 source novel, by A. J. Quinnell, into a film in 1983. Journalist Paul Davies theorized that movie producers likely believed that Scott, whose only directorial work as of the time was 1983's The Hunger, lacked the experience to direct this as his second film.

The novel was first adapted into the 1987 film Man on Fire, starring Scott Glenn as Creasy. This movie, like the novel, was set in Italy, then a major center of kidnapping.

When a remake was first under consideration, producer Arnon Milchan (who also produced the 1987 version) looked at Michael Bay and Antoine Fuqua to direct, before asking Scott if he was still interested.[10]

20th Century Fox wanted the film to still be set in Italy.[10] An early draft of the script was set in Naples, with early reporting suggesting that the Mexico City filming was an odd stand in for Naples.[11] Scott argued that if the setting would be Italy, then the film would have to be a period piece, since by the 2000s kidnappings became a rare occurrence in Italy.[10] Mexico City became the setting of the 2004 film because Mexico City had a high kidnapping rate,[12] and due to other reasons.[10] As a result, the character Rika Balletto was renamed Lisa Martin Ramos, and Pinta Balletto was renamed Lupita "Pita" Ramos. Ettore Balletto became Samuel Ramos. Robert De Niro was originally offered the role of Creasy.[11] Prior to his death, Marlon Brando was the original choice to play Rayburn.[13]


Man On Fire opened in the U.S. on April 23, 2004, in 2,980 theaters and grossed $22,751,490 with an average of $7,634 and ranking No. 1 at the box office. The film's widest release was 2,986 theaters and it ended up earning $77,911,774 in North America and $52,381,940 internationally for a total of $130,293,714 worldwide, above its $70 million production budget.[14] The film was successful in the U.S. home video market, grossing more than $123 million in DVD and VHS rentals and sales in U.S.[15]

The film received mixed reviews from critics and has a rating of 39% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 168 reviews with an average rating of 5.2 out of 10. The consensus states "Man on Fire starts out well, but goes over the top in the violent second half."[16] The film also has a score of 47 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 36 reviews.[17]

Paul Davies, a journal article author, said that the critical reception to Man on Fire in the United States was "somewhat less than kind" because critics did not like the vigilantism that Creasy uses. Davies argues that "most critics missed" Creasy not taking "sadistic pleasure" in the killings since he kills to get information to get to all of the people involved in the kidnapping of Pita Ramos, and does not like harming innocent parties.[18]

A. J. Quinnell had a favorable reception to this adaptation, mainly because the film used many of the book's lines.[12] Quinnell said that usually screenwriters "like to leave their mark on the product."[19] Quinnell added that even though he usually dislikes film adaptations of books, the writers "did a good job with Man On Fire and I loved the chemistry between Creasy and the girl" and "When I first heard Denzel was playing the part of Creasy I missed a couple of heartbeats but he played the part brilliantly. The film is violent and if the anger is not portrayed properly, the result can be awful."[19] Kevin Freese of the Foreign Military Studies Office stated that "it appears that the allusion" of the fictional Sánchez brothers with the real Arizmendi brothers "escaped the comprehension of much of the audience."[8]

Awards and Nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Candidate Result
2004 Golden Schmoes Awards Best Supporting Actress of the Year Dakota Fanning Nominated
2005 BMI Film & TV Awards Premio IMC Film Music Man on Fire Won
2005 Critics' Choice Movie Awards Best Young Actress Dakota Fanning Nominated
2005 Golden Trailer Awards Best Action Movie Man on Fire Nominated
2005 Golden Trailer Awards Best Action Movie – Drama Man on Fire Nominated
2005 NAACP Image Awards Best Outstanding Feature Film Man on Fire Nominated
2005 NAACP Image Awards Best Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
2005 Young Artist Awards Best Young Actress Dakota Fanning Nominated


The cut "Smiling", from the soundtrack composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, has been adopted as the theme of a number of television commercials for Omega Watches in 2012 to 2013. The soundtrack contains 20 tracks, was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, and was released on July 27, 2004.[20]


In 2005, a Hindi remake of the film by director Apoorva Lakhia, called Ek Ajnabee, was released. It starred Amitabh Bachchan as John W. Creasy (renamed Suryaveer "Surya" Singh).[21] The same year, it was also remade in Tamil language as Aanai starring Arjun Sarja.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Man on Fire (2004)". British Film Institute. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
  2. ^ "Man on Fire (2004) – Tony Scott". AllMovie.
  3. ^ "The Making of 'Man on Fire'." (See iMDB entry) About 32:19, interview segment of Tony Scott after interview segment of Marc Anthony
  4. ^ Harrison, Eric. "Man on Fire." Houston Chronicle. April 23, 2004. Retrieved on May 15, 2014.
  5. ^ "Story Notes for Man on Fire" (Archive). AMC TV. Retrieved on May 15, 2014.
  6. ^ a b "The Making of 'Man on Fire'." About 37:50, interview segment of Mickey Rourke
  7. ^ "Roberto Sosa". IMDb.
  8. ^ a b Freese, Kevin (Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, KS). "The Death Cult of the Drug Lords Mexico’s Patron Saint of Crime, Criminals, and the Dispossessed" (). Foreign Military Studies Office. Retrieved on May 15, 2014.
  9. ^ "La industria de secuestro en México es tan lucrativa que no caerá, según un experto" (Archive). Agencia EFE at La Voz (Arizona Star). October 3, 2010. Retrieved on May 15, 2014. "Su historia sirvió al director hollywoodiense Tony Scott para el filme "Man on fire", protagonizado por Denzel Washington y ambientado en el Distrito Federal. Los secuestradores se llamaron Daniel, como "el Mochaorejas", y Aurelio, como su compinche."
  10. ^ a b c d Davies, Paul. Ed: Nancy Billias. "Be not overcome by evil but overcome evil with good': The Theology of Evil in Man on Fire." Posted in Producing and Promoting Evil. Rodopi Publishers, 2010. 221. Retrieved on March 30, 2011. ISBN 90-420-2939-0, ISBN 978-90-420-2939-2.
  11. ^ a b "The Stax Report: Script Review of Man on Fire". IGN. May 8, 2003. Retrieved on January 18, 2011. "Creasy is hired to serve as a bodyguard for the Balletto family of Naples (although since the film is being shot in Mexico City perhaps the story's locale has been changed since this draft was written)." and "Rika Balletto (Mitchell), the beautiful wife of struggling but well-to-do businessman Ettore, convinces her aloof husband to hire protection for their precocious young daughter Pinta (Fanning)."
  12. ^ a b "Social and Personal Obituaries" Archived January 19, 2012, at WebCite. (Archive) Times of Malta. July 14, 2005. Retrieved on March 28, 2011.
  13. ^ Man on Fire (2004) – Trivia, IMDb, retrieved Tuesday September 16, 2014.
  14. ^ "Man on Fire (2004)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved May 31, 2010.
  15. ^ "Year End 2004 Top Money Makers". Variety. December 30, 2004.
  16. ^ "Man on Fire". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved March 19, 2011.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Davies, Paul. Ed: Nancy Billias. "Be not overcome by evil but overcome evil with good': The Theology of Evil in Man on Fire." Posted in Producing and Promoting Evil. Rodopi Publishers, 2010. 222. Retrieved on March 30, 2011. ISBN 90-420-2939-0, ISBN 978-90-420-2939-2.
  19. ^ a b Massa, Ariadne. "Gozo based author sees first book become a bestseller" (Archive). The Times of Malta. November 10, 2004. Retrieved on March 28, 2012.
  20. ^ "Man on Fire 2004 Soundtrack". AllMusic. November 21, 2016. Retrieved November 21, 2016.
  21. ^ Vijayan, Vipin. "Amitabh rocks in Ek Ajnabee". Retrieved on March 27, 2012.

External links[edit]