One film, two versions: Man On Fire

Many of you might have seen Denzel Washington giving his usual reliable performance in the 2004 kidnap thriller, ‘Man On Fire’. But did you know it was a remake? All too often, very good original films become forgotten or overlooked, when a big-budget remake with an A-list cast hits the screens, appealing to a new generation of film fans. This occasional series will attempt to address the issue of remakes, good and bad, and hopefully introduce you to some original versions you may not have been aware of.

In 1987, I saw a French/Italian film, starring the American actor Scott Glenn. It was based on a 1980 book, and the cast included such well known names as Jonathan Pryce, Joe Pesci, Danny Aiello, and Brooke Adams. It was about the rash of kidnappings in Italy, when wealthy families were held to ransom by Mafia groups who targeted family members, especially children. Some rich people began to hire private bodyguards, in the hope of stopping this happening to them.

Along comes weary and burned-out ex CIA man, John Creasy. (Glenn) Plagued by flashbacks of the war in Vietnam, suffering from PTSD and wandering aimlessly around Europe, he reluctantly accepts a job as bodyguard to a 12 year old girl. He forms a strong protective relationship with the girl, who idolises him, despite his gruff manner, and apparent indifference.

Then she is kidnapped, and John is seriously wounded trying to stop that happening. In hospital, he determines to rescue the girl, whatever it takes, and to track down her kidnappers. His vengeance is ruthless, as caring nothing for his own safety, he takes on organised crime to get her home to her parents.

I really enjoyed this film. It felt moody, low key, and interesting. Glenn was completely convincing as Creasy, and the supporting cast all did their jobs very well. Good locations, often visually stunning, as well as the short but violent set pieces being very effective. It had mixed reviews at the time, and seemed to disappear very quickly, getting little attention.

Seventeen years later, and a new version is released, with little or no mention of the original, or the fact is is a remake. Directed by Tony Scott, with a big budget, and a suitably impressive cast. Washington as John Creasy, ably supported by Dakota Fanning, Christoper Walken, Rachel Ticotin, and Mickey Rourke. Creasy is a depressed burned-out former CIA man, dependent on alcohol, and drifting aimlessly in life. (Sound familiar?) The setting is now Mexico, and the villains are the kidnappers of the drug cartels. An American woman, married to a rich young Mexican man, fears for their daughter, and wants to hire a bodyguard for her. Creasy reluctantly accepts the job, and forms a protective relationship with the girl, teaching her to swim, and tolerating her adoration of him. (Stop me if you have read this already…)

She is of course kidnapped, and Creasy is badly wounded trying to save her. He decides to track down the men responsible, and wreak a terrible revenge on them, with no regard for his own safety. OK, flippancy aside, this is a pretty good remake, something rare indeed. If you had never known about the original, you could well be swept away by the great cinematography, and solid performances from all involved. There are minimal changes, and the action follows the original in almost every respect. But it loses much of the mood of the 1987 film, and that European feel that made it something very different at the time.

Let me know what you think of remakes, in the comments. I will post some more like this during the year if anyone else finds them interesting..

41 thoughts on “One film, two versions: Man On Fire

  1. Thanks, Pete. I never know what to think about those. Sometimes I’m surprised because the plot is familiar but there is nothing to say a movie is a remake. In some cases there are differences that are quite telling, but in others I’m not sure what the point is. And sometimes I like both. I think it’s a matter of the individual movies, but I prefer to watch the original if possible.

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  2. Great post 🙂 Both of them have great casts, but their was something special about the 1987 film as you say. Interestingly enough, Jonathan Pryce co-stars and he was in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil two years earlier in 1985. So it was awesome to see him in the 1987 version. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

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  3. I would think that remakes. sequels and stolen plots are the way of most films and television programs. Indeed, I saw a book once titles, Steal this Plot. Unfortunately, it has been this way since the beginning. Films that sell, or go over, stimulate a human response to do it again. I notice this even in the photos I take. If I like one, I tend to replicate it. So, remakes and copying are the names of the game in most areas of the arts.
    Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that there are so many possible genres and plots, Theo. Crime, Romance, Sci-Fi, Horror, Thriller, Historical etc. But the films I will highlight in this series are all straight remakes, albeit with minor tweaks, in some instances. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete,

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As usual, you articulate my opinion on films: “this is a pretty good remake, something rare indeed”, about this one in particular and Hollywood remakes in general which “[lose] much of the mood of the [original] film, and that [in this case] European feel that made it something very different at the time.” Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single remake better, or more relevant, than the original (“classic” duh) but I welcome enlightenment during this series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I doubt you will find me lauding a remake as better than the original, (OK, maybe ‘A Star Is Born’) but you may be surprised how much I like some remakes, albeit a small number. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Like

  5. Interesting. Never knew Man on Fire was a remake. I thought it was a decent film. Like you, I typically dislike the remake, but not always. There are notable exceptions. For example, I grew up loving True Grit. I still love the original Henry Hathaway film staring John Wayne. Then some 40 yrs later I saw the Coen Bros. remake. To me the remake is far superior.
    I’m a Scott Glen fan. If I run across this film I’ll watch it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like it when people don’t realise about remakes, Pam, as it makes posts like these worthwhile.
      I have to disagree about ‘True Grit’. I didn’t mind the first one at all, as Kim Darby was near perfect for her role. But the Coen Brothers version left me cold. Maybe I should compare them, in this series? 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I tend to avoid remakes like the plague… But some have been very good. “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956), “The Invastion of the Body Snatchers” (1978), “The Thing” (1982), and “King Kong” (2005) are examples. What I fail to understand is why Hollywood bothers to remake films that were great in the first place. Examples would be “Flight of the Phoenix” (2004), “Carrie” (2013), and “Ben-Hur” (2016). I’m curious, though, about possible remakes of “Cleopatra,” “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “Logan’s Run,” and “Suspiria.”

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    1. I have read about a remake of ‘Logan’s Run’, David, but doubt it would interest me in the same way as the original. ‘Cleopatra’ would no doubt be mainly rendered in CGI, to save money. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Knowing your dislike for remakes, this was a surprise post–glad you found a good one! It is not often, but sometimes remakes are fine. I did not watch Man on Fire even though the cast looks great. Not sure why just didn’t pique my interest enough. I enjoy comparing the old with the new, so maybe you will, too. Looking forward to more posts like this one, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Depends on the film. Some classics just cannot be redone for me often because of my fondness for the original cast (We’re No Angels is one). But like this film, since i’ve not seen any of these, likely would not bother me to see because I haven’t made a visceral connection to them.

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  9. Remakes, reboots, or whatever you wish to call them (lol), it has really become pretty much a new thing in the world of cinema these days. Most of the time, remakes are never as good as the original. They fail to catch the spirit of the original in some way. Or take things in a totally different direction. That said…there are luckily a few very good exceptions, so yes..I would love to see more posts like this.
    And…I did truly not know that this was a remake. I have never seen the original myself, so I can’t judge this one, but I did like the one with Denzel Washington. And of course what’s kind of funny is that Scott Glenn of course made an appearance in Training Day alongside Denzel 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Michel. You not knowing this was a remake is no surprise, as it was never mentioned in 2004.
      Glad to hear you like the idea of the series, and I will post more. There seems to be a problem adding the You Tube links now, as that took ages to work. So there might not be trailers in future posts.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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