Director Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington have re-teamed for the first time since 2001’s smash-hit, Training Day. The role that garnered Washington his second Academy Award, for his villainous turn as Det. Alonzo Harris. In their second combined effort, The Equalizer, they have kept their focus on street level crime, yet explore a whole new side of the underworld.
The Equalizer is a remake of the 1985 TV series which starred Edward Woodward. The show was about a former government agent who made it his personal mission to help people in need, in an effort to atone for his past transgressions. While this movie sets itself apart from the show in most ways, it does serve as an origin story of sorts for Robert McCall, played tactfully by Washington. McCall is a man with a mysterious past, who on the outside, seems very mild-mannered and harmless. We are first introduced to him through his daily routine which is extraordinarily timed and organized. It seems that he may have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder due to the way he shaves his head, aligns his silverware and sets his life to a strict routine. He works at a gigantic hardware depot and has a strong community focus. McCall also suffers from insomnia and dines nightly at a local diner, where he has struck up a friendship with local patrons, including a troubled youth named Teri, played by Chloe Grace Moretz.
The first twenty minutes of the film is a slow burn, with layers being peeled back ever so slowly. It is clear from the outset that McCall is a haunted man, while he inherently seems good, has buried some dark demons. His coworkers and neighbors seem to overlook the sadness in his eyes. However Teri, who is going through her own personal hell, can see there is something deeper going on. The movie begins to pick up speed after a brutal assault on Teri by Russian mobsters who own the prostitution ring that she has become entangled in. This awakens a vengeful warrior in McCall, who takes it upon himself to visit the head of the ring personally. After an offer to simply pay for Teri’s freedom from the ring is insultingly rebuffed, McCall gives them the second option…What results is a reveal that McCall is a complete badass that should not be trifled with.
The action in the film is precise, exact, and shockingly violent. Fuqua has kept the action extremely realistic and ground level. One of the most surprising things about the movie is that Fuqua does give McCall a “superpower.” Much like the technique seen in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes or Spider-man’s spidey-sense, McCall has the ability to analyze a room in milliseconds and is able to utilize his given environment to his advantage. He is capable of artistically taking out a room of gun-toting thugs single-handedly and you can tell by his steely demeanor, he has done it multiple times before.
Another highlight of the film is the performance of Marton Csokas, as Teddy. He is the angel of death sent directly from overseas, to cleanup and investigate the murders of their Russian comrades. Csokas plays the role intellectually, however combines that with a sudden and unpredictable violent streak, that will leave viewers gripping their chairs. He is the sociopathic wild-card that enters a scene and at any moment violence can erupt. Throughout the film he and Washington do well playing these opposite sides of the coin and when they share scenes the tension level skyrockets, because underneath both men’s calm exteriors…are savage killers.
The movie changes pace when McCall meets up with his old cronies, played by Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo. Only here do we begin to get a sense of the mysterious McCall’s past life. Also, for the first time in the film, he seems to be truly himself around people that understand truly how talented he is. It is yet another subtle example of Washington’s mastery of his character.
The climax of the movie is a crowd-pleaser. McCall shows that he is equal parts Jason Bourne and MacGuyver, as he utilizes all the tools that a Home Depot could offer a trained assassin. And it is clear that there are a lot of deadly booby traps and weapons that you can concoct, if you are creatively inclined. The finale is similar to the end of Home Alone, but done realistically for adults, without the smiles and a much higher death toll.
Not surprisingly Washington’s performance is the highlight of the movie. This is ultimately a B-movie…starring Denzel Washington. Perhaps since the story is so local, it never feels like the film has a chance to breathe. Only at the epilogue towards the end, do we truly get a sense of who McCall really is and what he is capable of. And unfortunately that is the movie we would want to see.
Fuqua and Washington are getting ready to bring The Magnificent Seven back to the big-screen. After seeing The Equalizer it is easily apparent why that would work. Utilizing Washington as the badass supreme, who has to round up his old band of outlaws makes a lot of sense. Washington should be headlining his own films, but it is time to start matching him up with more talent of his caliber.
The Equalizer doesn’t leave you with enough to chew on by the end. McCall’s brief friendship with Teri seemed like a far-fetched reason to reawaken McCall’s past. Especially since he catches the train to work everyday in a major city. Certainly he has come across other deplorable incidents. It makes the movie feel episodic, especially in the closing nod to the original show. It is hard to not think while watching this movie, that it would play better as a long-form cable TV show. Ultimately the performances and action is fun, but it doesn’t offer enough plot to really make it anything more than a slightly above-average movie.