2014, R, 131 mins.
2014, R, 131 mins.
Denzel Washington as Robert McCall / Chloë Grace Moretz as Teri / Marton Csokas as Teddy / David Harbour as Masters / Bill Pullman as Brian / Melissa Leo as Susan / Antoine Fuqua
Directed by Antoine Fuqua / Written by Richard Wenk
THE EQUALIZER opens with an unintentionally hilarious and pretentious Mark Twain quote regarding the nature of man, which tries, I think, to set up this action thriller as one of utmost solemnity. The resulting film, though, is so unrelentingly silly that you kind of have to do a reflective double take on the inclusion of that title card quote. To be fair, THE EQUALIZER primarily exists as a methodically nasty and violent engine to exhibit star Denzel Washington murder-death-kill his way through multiple adversaries in the most cartoonishly graphic manners possible using weapons that could be found at a typical hardware store. On those very levels, THE EQUALIZER emerges as a slick and fiendishly entertaining grindhouse thriller.
But involving and displaying strong craftsmanship?
Of the dozen or
so people that I asked, almost nobody remembered the TV series that this film
is based on. THE EQUALIZER originated as a 1985-1989 CBS show featuring
Edward Woodward as a retired intelligence officer that uses some swift
vigilante justice to help those desperate in need.
The show had a cult following and was notorious for its then
scandalous levels of violence, but the time between the series’ premiere
and the current film adaptation is so long – not to mention that the
show never emerged out of its level of fringe popularity – that modern
audiences will, no doubt, go into the film relatively cold.
Having watched the TV series, I can attest to the fact that THE
EQUALIZER film – outside of its title, main character name, and basic
premise – has very little to do with its source material.
In some ways, that’s probably a good thing.
plays Robert McCall, a man with a shadowy past in the CIA that, for
reasons never fully explained, had to leave – he actually faked his own
death, so make that permanently leave – to live a quite and
unassuming life as a merchandiser at a local big Box retailer that looks
suspiciously like Home Depot (it’s called Home Mart in the film, clearly
because the actual retail chain probably didn’t want their name
associated with the carnage that’s about to come within their walls). When he’s not laughing it up with his co-workers, Robert
spends his evenings alone, drinking tea and reading books at a local diner
at wee hours of the morning (he appears to have insomnia and acute OCD
symptoms). He also seems to have
befriended a local teen prostitute named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz, a
gifted young actress somewhat marginalized in a relative throwaway role).
Teri’s life is one of hardships, which is driven home for Robert when he
learns that she’s been beaten bloody and senseless – and put in IC at
a local hospital – by her Russian pimp (David Meunier).
Driven into a Travis Bickle level of impulsive vengeance, Robert
decides to take on the man that left Teri nearly for dead by paying him a
visit, but when his peaceful mission of paying him off to leave Teri alone
fails to materialize, Robert defends himself…by murdering the pimp and
his entire goon squad (he makes grisly use of a cork screw at one point).
Unfortunately, Robert’s actions inadvertently catches the
attention of the Russian underworld, and within no time a sadistic and
ruthlessly cunning mafia enforcer named Teddy (a wonderfully slimy Marton Csokas,
who looks like the love child of Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe) decides
to use every means necessary to locate and take Robert out.
What Teddy doesn’t realize is that nabbing and killing Robert is
no easy task.
THE EQUALIZER was
helmed by the very competent Antoine Fuqua, who before this made the
finest DIE HARD film not containing John McClane in OLYMPUS
HAS FALLEN and previously worked with Washington most famously on
2001’s TRAINING DAY, the film that netted the star an Oscar.
Interestingly, Fuqua is more interested in developing the Robert
character and his story slowly before getting to the thick of the
bloodcurdling action, which is a wise move that pays off well later.
Robert Wenk’s screenplay takes great interest in immersing us in
the minutia of Robert’s lonely and haunted existence, which only allows
for the film’s action set pieces later to hit us with the appropriate
oomph punch-to-the-gut factor. It’s clear that some will, no doubt, laugh at the limitless
invulnerability of the film’s 59-year-old star, but Fuqua stages all of
the sequences where he emerges as an ass-kicking angel of death with care
and precision to the point where you do buy into his startling lethality.
It also could be
easily said that Washington himself is in a whole other performance
stratosphere above this type of ugly and sensationalistic material.
Yet, he's the key reason why we invest in the film as much
as we do, mostly because of the manner that he never plays Robert up to
tired action film hero clichés. Steely
eyed, perpetually poker faced, and ferociously internalized,
Washington’s Robert is a frighteningly calm spoken individual whose
quite demeanor masks a simmering intensity that is buried deep under the
surface. What ultimately makes
this stealthy and inordinately dangerous assassin work is how Washington
makes you believe in the character’s resolve, determination, and
unwavering commitment to righting wrongs.
Yes, even when the film engages in excessively head shaking
stylistic hubris – like showcasing an unflinching Robert walking away
from a massive pipeline explosion that he triggered, one that should have
probably burned him alive instantly – Washington nonetheless grounds the
character in the otherwise preposterous turn of events in the narrative.
also well matched with Marton Csokas sneering and reptilian Russian baddie
that gives as good as he takes. The
film manages to take a breather here and there and has some fine dialogue
exchanges between the two adversaries as they mutually try to one-up each
other with words first. Of course, there’s a time for words and a time for
action, and THE EQUALIZER spirals towards an aggressively
barbaric climax set – wouldn’t ya know it? – at Robert’s Home
Mart, during which time he must use his wits and a hell of a lot of
MacGuyver-like skills to use everything on the store shelves to eradicate
his enemies and save his co-workers.
Power drills and nail guns are apparently not just for home
I’m almost ashamed to admit how much I liked this movie. Leaving the screening I felt kind of dirty. THE EQUALIZER is revenge porn, pure and simple, but it gets its intended job done. There’s certainly a kick in seeing Washington get his ultimate comeuppance against all of those deplorable Russian baddies (is it just me, or have they been returning in full force in American movies lately as the de facto villains of choice?). Without the Academy Award winning star at the helm, I think that THE EQUALIZER wouldn’t have been half as endurable or enthralling. Washington may be bullet, knife, and explosion proof in the film, but he at least makes for an always-compelling bullet, knife, and explosion proof character study.