Logan’s Moving Pictures is back with one of Tony Scott’s greatest films; Man on Fire.
I’m almost certain the first Tony Scott film Ryan and I ever watched was Top Gun, just as certain as I am that neither one of us were ever really big fans of it. I do know that Ryan had a massive crush on Meg Ryan, which I believe I’ve talked about before. I’m not sure it started with her role in Top Gun (I’d put money on Innerspace being the catalyst, even if it came a year later), but simply because of her appearance he would have said he appreciated the film more than I ever will. I’ve revisited it a time or two in the decades since, and while I can still say I’m not a fan, its charms aren’t lost on me. You can see Scott really beginning to formulate his style, something that would continue in his next film, which we both loved, Beverly Hills Cop 2. Actually, the love for that movie was a family affair. My Dad, my uncles and even my grandmother adored it.
After that came Revenge, Days of Thunder and The Last Boy Scout. I remember that my oft-mentioned Uncle Bink particularly loved Days, both for its racing plot and Nicole Kidman (he was quite the fan of both), while my Dad, ever the Bruce Willis fan, loved The Last Boy Scout. For some reason I’ve carried the memory of reading the last page of the film’s novelization long before we were ever able to see it. It was on a bookshelf at our local Wal-Mart, and I knew it was a movie my Dad would want to see because of who was in it, and so I picked it up, turned to the last page, and read some nonsense about Satan Claws, which, if you’ve seen the movie makes perfect sense. To a 12 year old in a Wal-Mart who couldn’t see it even if he wanted to, it made absolutely none.
After that Scott made what would go on to be one of Ryan’s favorite films of all time, True Romance.
I don’t know exactly when he first saw True Romance, but I do know the combination of Scott’s direction and a Quentin Tarantino script created something that was endlessly watchable for him. Not only did he become a massive Tarantino fan, but he would follow Scott’s career until the end, loving every movie for exactly what it was. He’d also call me after watching or rewatching every one, to tell me I needed to see it, or to tell me why it was so brilliant. It’s maybe just a little bit funny that I gravitated towards the other Scott as a filmmaker, Tony’s brother Ridley, though I definitely appreciate them both in their own ways.
Even though Ryan counted True Romance as his favorite, I know he always considered it more of a Tarantino effort than Scott’s, even if it was just the script he worked on. For pure Tony Scott filmmaking, I know that Ryan’s favorite film was Scott’s second outing with Denzel Washington, Man on Fire. Once I saw it, that was an opinion I emphatically and whole-heartedly shared. Then, last year the news came that stars Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning would be re-teaming on the third film in the Equalizer series. Immediately I thought of my brother, and how stoked he would have been to see that. I’ve only watched the first Equalizer, but that series itself looks like something Tony Scott would have had his hands in. Eventually I forgot about its release, lost among the i’s and spandex films of the summer, and when it finally showed up in theatres I decided that meant it was absolutely time for me to revisit Tony Scott’s classic.
Man on Fire was a movie we discussed often, and one that became especially poignant for Ryan when he became a father just a few years later. This story of a very damaged man, lost in his own vices, haunted by his past, finding a reason to still put one foot in front of the other…To wake up every day and try to be a little better than the person he was the day before, because this little girl needed him to be better…it’s something I watched my brother try to do again and again with the people in his life. I know it’s not my place to judge if he was ever successful, even in our own strained relationship, but it’s something that I’ve begun recognizing in hindsight.
If you’ve never seen Man on Fire, it’s the story of John Creese, a washed up vet, an alcoholic, living in Mexico, getting by on meaningless jobs that he never lasts long at. He takes what he’s told is an easy gig playing bodyguard to a young daughter of a local CEO and prominent figure. He takes her to and from school, to look imposing and scary, and stay awake and remotely sober. When the two form a bond, Creese starts to see beyond his past, and when the worst happens he makes it his mission to mete out justice. Eventually, after taking out a large contingent of the kidnapping ring, Creese agrees to trade his life for the life of the girl. He’s mortally wounded, he knows it, and he’s resigned himself to his fate, as long as it means she will live.
As I rewatched that ending play out, of course I thought about my brother, but I also thought about Tony Scott and the circumstances of his own passing.
On August 19 of 2012 Scott climbed a bridge in Los Angeles and leapt to his death. The contents of the notes he left behind have never been disclosed, but eventually his brother, Ridley, revealed that he had been battling cancer, but that he was in recovery, and it made the circumstances surrounding his death even more mysterious. I won’t speculate here as to the reasons Tony Scott took his own life, but I’ll paraphrase what I said when the news came: It saddens me to no end that anyone, let alone a man my brother and I admired so greatly, had lost his light. I can only wonder if my brother had very much done the same. Maybe not at the end, but for the months and months before that I can tell you that he did not seem at all to want to get better. He often talked as if he’d given up on himself.
Watching John Creese resign himself to a fate he felt he deserved, even if in his mind it meant someone else he loved got to live, was harrowing in relation to deaths of the man who molded the film and the brother who loved it so dearly, and spread that love to me (among others, I’m sure).
Was there another way?
That’s the hell of grief. One of the many, I suppose. Unanswered questions. Another, and maybe the actual driving force of grief, is the idea of what could have been if things had been different. If John Creese had decided to save both his surrogate daughter and himself, could he have? Would they be living, with the girl’s mother, away from the madness that threatened to consume them? Had Tony Scott been treated sooner, or possibly known that he could (are possibly already had) recover from his illnesses, what would the landscapes of both his personal and professional life look like? The questions of what life would be like if my brother had been able to get the answers he needed about his health sooner loom large for the people he left behind. For me they are too many to even ponder openly, even now…it’s three years later and I still find new ones every day.
Time is the only currency we can truly spend and never make, it’s our most valuable resource, and at the end we all will wish we had more. Maybe the most human of all follies is that every one of us thinks we will get all we need. I know I do, and while I’d like to resolve to make it all count going forward, I know it’s a promise I can’t keep, but I will certainly keep trying my best.