Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, Haley Bennett, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Johnny Skortis
Opens: 25 September 2014
Rating: M18 (Violence and Coarse Language) / 132 mins
Robert McCall (Washington) is a former Special Forces operative who has forged a new, quiet life as an unassuming worker at the Home Mart. During his regular stops at a diner after work, he meets underage prostitute Alina, working under the name “Teri” (Moretz), and is moved by her plight to take on the Russian gangster pimps she is forced to work for. McCall’s actions attract the attention of Spetsnaz-trained Russian Mafia enforcer Nicolai, who goes by “Teddy”. Teddy’s innocuous nickname belies his cold, psychopathic nature. Teddy and his men begin relentlessly pursuing McCall, but little do they know that they’re dealing with a bona fide one man army.
The Equalizer is based on the 80s TV show starring Edward Woodward and re-teams Denzel Washington with his Training Day director Antoine Fuqua. One thing is abundantly clear after watching The Equalizer: Fuqua knows how to make Washington look very cool. Washington’s Robert McCall is a stone-cold badass, collected, unflappable and supremely deadly. This is a guy who sets a stopwatch to time his fights to make sure he’s still got it. The graphically violent efficiency with which he dispatches his opponents stands in contrast with how nurturing a mentor figure he is to his co-workers at the Home Mart. A subplot has him helping the overweight Ralphie (Skortis) get into shape so he can pass the security guard test. This is the same guy who streamlines the Russian Mafia’s payroll with the help of guns, hedge trimmers, barb wire, nail guns, canisters of oxygen in the microwave and of course his own bare hands. All that’s missing from scenes in which Washington performs that “cool guys don’t look at explosions” strut is a choir in the background singing “he’s a badass! He’s a badass!” to the tune of “Gonna Fly Now”.
Here’s the problem – as assuredly-directed as it all is, one can’t help but feel that The Equalizer’s protagonist is a nigh-invincible superhuman who is never really in any palpable danger from the film’s villains. He’s cool, sure, but he’s far from a unique, memorable action hero. There are no depths for Washington to plumb here, even given how the character is supposed to come off as sage-like in addition to tough. What helps mitigate this somewhat is Marton Csokas’ turn as the villain. The bad guys in this movie are old-school – evil and uncomplicated. Csokas is a charismatic, commanding presence without going overboard with the scenery chewing or affecting too-ridiculous an accent. A scene in which Teddy confronts another prostitute about Teri’s whereabouts is chillingly played. Chloë Moretz isn’t in this as much as the trailers would lead one to believe but her portrayal of shattered innocence and world-weariness is pretty moving, recalling Jodie Foster’s turn in Taxi Driver.
The Equalizer is stylish and atmospheric, reminding this reviewer of Jack Reacher. Before he strikes, McCall sizes up and analyses each of his opponents, shown in the form of a dramatic Sherlock Holmes-style breakdown. There is very little in the way of shaky-cam and hyper-kinetic editing, allowing the mood and suspense to sink it. The action does get rather grisly, so if you’re squeamish about sharp implements, be forewarned. The Equalizer looks polished but it isn’t sophisticated, and this won’t lead to a Best Actor Oscar for Washington like his earlier collaboration with Fuqua did. But we get Denzel Washington going all lone-wolf guardian avenger in a slightly different mode from Man on Fire, and we can’t complain about that.
Summary: It’s formulaic, but with action sequences that are equal parts slick and visceral and a cooler-than-cool lead performance from Denzel Washington, The Equalizer offers up a decent amount of genre thrills.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars