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Kidnapping Drama <i>Man On Fire</i> Highlights Growing Crime Problem in Latin America - 2004-04-28

Oscar-winner Denzel Washington reunites with his Crimson Tide director Tony Scott for a gritty, gripping drama of kidnapping and revenge set in modern day Mexico City, Man On Fire.

Denzel Washington is John Creasy, a burned-out undercover assassin who hopes enough alcohol can blur memories of all of the death he has seen ... and caused. A former colleague gets him work in Mexico as bodyguard to the daughter of a wealthy family.

Much as he tries to resist Pita, played by Dakota Fanning, she breaks through Creasy's tough defenses; and when she is kidnapped and feared dead, with corrupt police officers in on the brutal crime, Creasy decides he has to take action on his own.

His character wreaks terrible revenge; but Washington feels it is justifiable in the context of this story.

"I found the journey that this man takes interesting. I found a chapter in the Bible that we actually use in the film," he says. "This is a man who is very talented, but because of what he had to do he has lost his soul. He became a drinker; he had the Bible in one hand and Jack Daniels in the other. It's his spiritual journey. He meets this little angel who helps to bring him back to life."

Washington has played heroes and villains - "it is all acting," he says - so he says he had to find within him the nature of someone who, as Creasy calmly does, can brutally torture a suspect to get information.

"You use what you know. [Director] Ed Zwick said in an interview that he thought my heart rate went down when the camera turned out," Washington says. "He said it seems like I get more relaxed; and I said 'oh, that's interesting.' I think that's what happens with this guy and I tried to go after that, especially in first scene with the fingers. He was very relaxed. This was something he is used to doing. He knows how to administer justice ... and pain, for the lack of a better word ... and I think that's interesting. He's good at what he does to where is comfortable with it, which is frightening, I think."

Director Tony Scott believes any parent would understand the emotional response ... and need for revenge ... played out in the movie.

"If anybody touched my kids, I would do exactly the same," he says. "If anybody touched Denzel's kids, he would do the same. I have four-year-old twins and if anyone came near them I would take no quarter. What he did in terms of his interrogation or torture or whatever you want to call it: he did whatever he had to do in order to get information from this guy to work his way through the food chain to get the next guy. I don't think it's gratuitous. I think it is a right and true to the story. This is based on a real life character who did exactly this in Italy back in 1970."

Scott says he moved the story to Mexico to bring it up to date; a prologue to the film notes that kidnapping for ransom has become a major crime problem throughout Latin America. Radha Mitchell, who plays the American mother of the kidnap victim, says the cast became very aware of that reality; the Australian-born actress says all of the film's stars had bodyguards to protect them off the set.

"What's really interesting about the film is that it uses the city of Mexico and that environment as a character in the story," she says. "That whole sense of danger and excitement and the necessity of having a bodyguard is very much what Man On Fire is about. It's about living on that sort of edge.

Man On Fire also features Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Giannini and Latino music idol Marc Anthony.