Fire With Fire

Fire With Fire might have been a straight-to-DVD release, despite the talent in the film. And this would be unfortunate, as it is, despite the by-the-numbers unfolding of the story, a pretty good film that is elevated by solid performances. Vincent D’Onofrio is particularly good.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released August 21, 2012

Written by Tom O’Connor and Lowell Cauffiel

Directed by David Barrett

Starring Rosario Dawson, Josh Duhamel, Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vinny Jones, 50 Cent, Bonnie Somerville, Richard Schiff, Kevin Dunn, and Julian McMahon

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *


This is a story we’ve seen before. Regular, kind of a loser guy who is good with the ladies, is pushed into a perilous situation, reevaluates life based on true love, and is forced to do terrible things to keep his loved ones safe.

There’s not a lot of fresh about this movie’s storyline. But what Fire With Fire gets right is that these are regular, recognizable people and they behave like they should based on how their character’s goals and the story push them to behave.

Jeremy (Duhamel) is a bit of a hotshot firefighter with a couple of best friends, one of whom regularly prompts Jeremy to settle down and have a family. But Jeremy likes his life too much  to make any changes. One night after a massive fire, Jeremy and his pals go drinking and Jeremy stops into his neighborhood convenience store to pick up supplies. Three mean-looking Aryan Brotherhood-type men show up, led by Hagen (D’Onofrio). Hagen does horrible things and Jeremy barely escapes and is convinced to go into witness protection so that he can testify against Hagen, who is a sadistic crime boss.

Talia Durham (Dawson) is the US Marshall assigned to keep Jeremy safe- and she tames his wild heart. Cella (Willis) is the determined cop trying to nail Hagen and who also wants to keep Jeremy alive.

But Hagen finds Jeremy and now Jeremy has to take matters into his own hands if he’s going to keep those he loves safe. Fire With Fire, as you would expect, ends with a fiery, surprisingly tense climax.


This is a relatively formulaic action flick. Regular guy with bachelor values is forced into a situation and he turns a corner and must confront evil, using whatever resources he can get his hands on and relying on determination to get him through.

But Fire With Fire is not satisfied with the template. It makes sure that Jeremy really is a normal guy. This guy gets hurt, has the tar beaten out of him, and has a lot of trouble becoming a hero. When he inevitably does kill someone, he reacts strongly. He gets out of breath. Not wanting to be a hero and very scared for his safety, the woman he falls in love with becomes the leverage that pushes him to step into the darkness.

All of this is convincingly played by Duhamel. This is a human hero, really similar to Bruce Willis’ John McClane, making it very appropriate for Willis to be in this movie. Willis is far more laid back than in most roles, looking thin and haggard from the get-go. He is also very much by the book.

That is what Fire With Fire does well: it doesn’t take the easy way out, instead making sure that each character is true to him or herself. The heroic characters have flaws, make stupid mistakes, and have to scrape victory right out of the jaws of defeat. The bad guys are mean, but are human in their speech and behavior.

And the performances are very good. Vinnie Jones is a very good sardonic bruiser. D’Onofrio is excellent as a sadistic, terrifying madman. Peter Schiff adds realism and heart to the character of Hagen’s lawyer. Even 50 Cent is believable as a gang leader.

You know what else? These people get wet in the rain.

Fire With Fire is a strangely overlooked film. Not the best film ever, uneven in its pacing and transitions, and a little overwrought, but it’s enjoyable and very nearly believable.

Content warnings: some graphic violence and plenty of salty language and a little bit of sensuality

Writing: 3.0          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 3.5

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