Creasy is a mercenary who has lost his will to live–there’s nothing to live for anymore so why continue?–when he gets a job as a bodyguard for a talkative young girl who finds her way into his heart. When she is kidnapped and killed, he seeks revenge on those who did it.
I’ve always enjoyed reading a book and then seeing the movie and comparing the two afterward. Most of the time I find the book to be superior because it has so much more in it, is more complex and detailed, and allows for a greater degree of imagination, but on rare occasion I find myself preferring the movie. This is one of those cases.
A few words about the movie: with Dakota Fanning and Morgan Freeman in the cast, you’ve already got some major talent in the mix, but I think that what actually made the movie better was some of the changes they made to the actual story (specifically that the girl was kidnapped, but not killed).
I think the change in ending was a huge thing in the story because the ending of the book was so unsatisfying. [SPOILERS AHEAD] The last third of the Man on Fire was Creasy going from one person to the next and killing them. The little girl, Pinta, was supposed to have changed his way of relating to the world and yet he ended up resorting to revenge killings and losing his life. It just seemed like he didn’t learn anything in the end. I think also the timing of when it turned out that the girl died really hurt the book because it was so early on. There was no feeling of potential hope or the possibility that maybe she could be saved. I think that the potential for her to be brought home safely (whether or not she ended up dead in the end) might have made a big difference both in my feelings for Creasy and how I felt about the book overall.
The author also had a tendency to over-explain things and box them into packages. “She was the type of woman that…” is the sort of phrase that he used a lot. I hate when people are given categories and boxed into types. People are complex, no two people are exactly the same, and giving people a “type” has always been something that bothers me. (Sort of in the way that I hate when fantasy writers have two different nations that live near each other yet their people have very distinct physical features. They live near each other, interact, and intermarry, they are not going to look so different that you can tell what city they come from!)
There was a lot of back story that didn’t feel like it was really relevant and characters that felt like they were just thrown in there in order to add more pages.
Overall, Man on Fire wasn’t bad (definitely readable and mostly a smooth narrative). It was good enough to finish, but I would certainly not seek out another book by AJ Quinnell.