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..