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Tony Scott and the Dying Macho Man

With tough guy movies like Man on Fire the filmmaker reminded how violent instincts actually uphold the best of civilization.

by
Andrew Klavan

Bio

August 21, 2012 - 10:30 am

Really sad to hear about the death of Tony Scott. I didn’t know him and have nothing personal to say, but I was a genuine admirer of his films. They were macho — manly — and that in itself made them a cut above much of what comes out of Hollywood.

Many people in the West use the word “macho” as a pejorative. This is because they are self-deceiving knuckleheads. They are kept so safe by (mostly) macho men with guns in the military and our various police forces that they can feel free to pretend they are somehow better and more civilized, doncha know, than their protectors. But the fact is if good boys aren’t taught to fight and win for what’s right, bad boys — from street gangs and Iran and Russia and China — will teach them how to fight and lose. And no, generalizing and excepting the exceptions, girls can’t cut it.

So it behooves an artist to pay tribute to tough guys now and then. Not nice guys who talk tough but the hard bastards who understand that, in certain circumstances, violence is not only an act of love, but the act of love that makes all other acts of love possible.

Tony Scott did that in terrific action films like Top Gun, Crimson Tide, and Unstoppable. My personal favorite, however, is Man on Fire.

Man on Fire (2004) is one of the very few recent films that I consider truly tough. The great Denzel Washington (Scott’s most-oft-used star) plays a mercenary looking for redemption who discovers his salvation lies in a blood-soaked hunt for a kidnapped child. Filled with Christian imagery and ideas, the movie asks the question: What happens to a man when the single talent God gives him is a talent for killing? The answers are both tragic and triumphant, and the action, story, performances, and most of all direction are all terrific.

Go take a look at the reaction to the film on Rotten Tomatoes. The critics give it a withering 39% approval. The human beings give it 89%, one short of 90%, which is almost unheard of. The critics whine prissily about the ugly violence. The people get it: this is a thoughtful, exciting, and macho tribute to the sine qua non guys, the violent guys — and the violent instincts — that uphold the best of civilization. (See my earlier similar remarks about Act of Valor.)

Tony Scott was a wonderful director of macho action films. Hollywood is diminished by his death and I personally am sorry to see him go. RIP.

***

Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture.

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