The 2004 movie Man on Fire came and left the theaters many movie seasons ago. Lots of films came and went but this one continues to stick in the minds of movie watchers. Theater goers were treated to an intelligent film, by a director best known at that time for standard action-fare like Top Gun, but here he showed us something with heart. Man on Fire is a movie that gives us a small overview of the criminal climate in Mexico, treats us to some action-fun, and gets us to care about the characters due to the interaction of all the players and a savvy script that we can comprehend.
Man on Fire lets us follow Creasy, a burnt-out alcoholic CIA operative who becomes the protector of a young girl named Lupita. The movie is based on the bestselling 1980 thriller of the same name, Man on Fire, by British author A.J. Quinnell. The actor Scott Glenn played the bodyguard in the 1987 movie version that was set in Italy. The original movie has not held up well but it is very likely that Tony Scott’s version will stay undated decades from now.
The performance by all of the actors is very good. In this movie we get Christopher Walken as Creasy’s best friend and who happens to be an arms dealer. Actress Dakota Fanning plays the adorable charge of Creasy’s named Lupita. Mickey Rourke plays a scummy lawyer, Radha Mitchell is Lupita’s mother, singer and actor Marc Anthony stars as the father Ramon.
It is to Denzel Washington’s and Fanning’s credit that we get such a great movie. Their interplaying is wonderful and Washington makes Creasy believable. We are sympathetic to his struggles. Some of the movie lines would be laughable if they were spoken by anyone other than Denzel. Only he, with his smooth speaking tones, could state something so silly believably:
Elderly Man: In the church, they say to forgive.
Creasy: Forgiveness is between them and God. It’s my job to arrange the meeting.
The movie begins with a wave of kidnappings sweeping through Mexico. Fearful of being next, many of the wealthy citizens hire bodyguards. Enter the reluctant John Creasy who has given up on life. He does not want to bodyguard a nine-year old girl but he needs the work.
Over the course of the movie he warms up to her as she adorably peppers him with questions and chips away at his thick, impenetrable exterior. When she is kidnapped he goes into action. His new-found purpose is to kill anyone that gets in his way.
Director Tony Scott gave us a movie with a lot of heart and soul. Man on Fire seemed to be the movie where he worked out his personal demons. Scott died by suicide by jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in the San Pedro port district of Los Angeles on 19 August 2012, at approximately 12:30 pm. PDT. We get a movie where the hero struggles with a lot of weight on his shoulders. Scott did well as the director.
The movie works for us because we know people like Creasy and we admire men like him. The world needs heroes. When we think of heroes it is likely we do not think of the myth-making Greek demigods like Hercules. Rather, when we think about heroes we think of the modern men we work with who seem imbued with the qualities of the ancient gods. Heroes should be intelligent, strong, courageous, and one of their most important qualities is to be selfless.
The comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell believed that ‘heroes’ undergo a journey to become heroes. They undertake a struggle and encounter a deep personal transformation via that journey. In every hero-story the hero is missing an important quality. Usually they are missing self-confidence, humility, or a sense of purpose. Many heroes pre-transformation have a blind spot that everyone else can see but them.
The 1980’s produced many bad, cheeseball action movies. The likes of swaggering, cocky martial artist turned actors such as Van Damme and Segal played in roles where the stock hero predictably gets injured, recovers, and discovers the missing ‘it’ that was lacking but needed in order to overcome his struggle. We got a watered-down version of Creasy.
In better action fare we got guys like the suicidal Murtaugh in the American buddy cop action film Lethal Weapon. Murtaugh finally learn
The movie fare was much better in the 90’s and beyond. One of the best of those types of movies that comes to my mind is Taken with Liam Neeson in the starring role. The hero is willing to do ANYTHING to protect his daughter.
Joseph Campbell posits the concept that heroes can only be heroes if they take risks or they aren’t heroes at all. If we follow narratology, comparative mythology, the monomyth, or the hero’s journey, we find that growth will follow the hero who takes risks. If he does this he will reach his full potential.
The hero can only emerge at a moment when he is needed by others like his family or community. When he comes he comes delivering justice. Hooray! He is a man of ingenuity, enterprise, bravery, and valor. Oh, and a lot of butt-kicking ability too.
Our hero isn’t fearless or impervious to pain. In fact our hero may have a great fear or fears to overcome. He may have deep doubts as to whether he can handle what is before him. On his journey he may encounter a mentor, allies, and finally he will encounter his enemy. He may come back and receive his reward of riches and self-knowledge by self-transformation or he may not come back at all.
Outside of his guns skills what more do we know about Creasy and how can we be more like him?
Know your enemy
Be a Pro, assess your situation as objectively as you can, and follow through.
We like Creasy because he is a pro and is therefore good at what he does. In one movie scene Creasy is going over maps and looking for the quickest route to and from Lupita’s school. When he finds out the house was bugged he makes plans to find the kidnappers. He realizes soon he’s been betrayed by Lupita’s greedy and ignorant father.
He assesses the situation Ramon puts them in and is smart enough to know he’ll need much more firepower than a pistol. He goes to Rayburn’s house to get more weapons. He’s outnumbered. Even though he is suicidal and a drunk he remains a pro. He follows through with his promise to kill everyone and saves Lupita even at the expense of his own life. He did the job he was paid to do. Total pro points 10/10.
Whatever you do in life do it well. Whether you are a welder, soldier, doctor or store clerk make sure you take stock and follow through in whatever you do to make a difference in the lives of others.
Be intelligent and take stock of your supplies and immediate needs.
Creasy is a complex thinker. We know this because he once was a CIA operative and not just some dude with a gun. He grabs a notebook and with a partial license is able to track down the bad guys. He uses a suppository dispenser laden with C-4 to handle Fuentes by sticking it in the man’s rectum to illicit the response he needs. He acquires numerous weapons throughout the movie for his deadly needs. He acquires a M3A1 “Grease Gun , a shotgun, and numerous fire pistols such as a Glock 17, a Type 69 RPG, and a Colt Commander. He is able to track the bad guys to the nightclub. He works with a reporter and she in turn exposes the gang leader known as the Voice. Creasy knows what he needs to acquire to kill everyone even though he’s bleeding.
Don’t be a fool. When you’re under attack by your boss, your co-workers, a thug or whomever make sure you can handle the task at hand. Assess your situation smartly, find your allies, gather your information, your supplies, and then handle it. Check out this wiki here.
Train and be prepared for the contingencies and be resourceful.
“There is no such thing as tough. There is trained and untrained. Which one are you?” ~Creasy.
Creasy notices two police cars blocking the street at each end of the Ramos house. After Lupita is kidnapped Creasy is able to track her down using his skills. He had no idea the father Ramon was involved in his own daughter’s kidnapping but he adapts.
What Creasy does takes brains, skills, and spiritual fortitude. When he gets his hands on one of the bad guys, he strips him naked to a car trunk and uses the aforementioned C-4. When Creasy doesn’t get what he wants he resorts to harder measures. He says that every time a man doesn’t answer truthfully the man will lose a finger. Creasy cuts off a finger to let the man know he isn’t joking.
Lean on your training and do what you know best. Circumstances will side-track you but stay focused. Be creative in how you solve your problems.
A bullet always tells the truth….
Be humble. Humility opens the way to learning. We watch a scene where he talks with one of the nuns and completes a biblical verse that’s “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” He is able to recite this to Lupita in Spanish. He knows his scripture. There is a scene where he practices gun drawing and catches the ejected bullet when he dry-fires. Later, as he is drinking and drawing again, he tries to kill himself. Creasy like the character Luke Skywalker is a man in pain. If these characters were real than we realize that Luke’s father Darth Vader killed billions of people. That’s a lot of weight for any young man to carry on his shoulders.
Skywalker grows from naive farm boy to aged and wise Jedi Knight but its at a price. Skywalker is probably the last of his kind. Creasy has likely lost many friends throughout his career, his children from divorce, job promotions and a marriage or two as well.
There is a verse in scripture, Ecclesiastes 7:2 “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.”
I propose that people learn best out of their sorrow and pain. The mind is open, the heart is open, the spirit is open to change as it seeks meaning and purpose. Schemas change. We get the idea that Creasy may have been a good man once sitting in the church pews but overtime something changed him.
He is damaged goods from his days doing wet works. When Creasy opens himself to the love Lupita gives him he begins his transformation from sad sack to a hero. He re-learns to care again and taps into the idea of sacrificing his own personal joy and safety so others might live.
Have Faith in Yourself and have Moral Strength.
John Creasy: “Forgiveness is between them and God. My job is to set up the meeting.”
The damage he needs to do on the Mexican gang is going to require a lot of confidence to pull off and some serious conviction to act in accordance with his beliefs. That is called WILLPOWER! One man against a lone man is tough but one man against a gang requires some intestinal fortitude.
We get the idea that Creasy is a moral man even if the compass needle is a bit bent. Creasy knows these men and it is not acceptable for them to do their evil. Some people do a lot of talking but a hero like Creasy actually does something about it. He prefers vengeance and justice. Full commitment tells us he is a true believer in this cause. We like the work he does…
Be a man of courage. Be a Man on Fire.
My favorite journalist, G.K. Chesterton, once stated — ‘Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.’ Creasy is a man who practices this way of thinking just like the samurai of old. Their mental exercises and practices freed these warriors from their natural fear of pain in order to accept death.
Have strength in the face of pain and grief. Do something that frightens someone. Everyday that you live, when you encounter danger try to be a man on fire.
What say you…