Movie Review – Equalizer, The
– Summary –
Director : Antoine Fuqua
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Johnny Skourtis.
Approx Running Time : 131 Minutes
Synopsis: An ex-CIA SAD operative conducts acts of vigilantism to protect the weak and innocent, bringing him into the cross-hairs of the Russian mob operating in Boston.
What we think : Atmospheric, tense, dangerous mob-centric thriller has Washington in quiet assassin mode, and the city of Boston front and center for a war on crime. Slower than people will expect (at least if you’ve seen a trailer for this), and never really that deep as far as characters or motivations go, The Equalizer is still effective in its simple mission to entertain. Well worth a look.
Not all men are equal.
Based on the English television series of the same name, and now transferred to the Continental United States, The Equalizer is a revenge-thriller set in Boston, Massachusetts, and stars Denzel Washinton, perhaps the only man on earth who could out-Liam-Neeson Liam Neeson. It’s no guns-blazin’ kinda action fest, so I suspect people going into this expecting that will be a tad disappointed, but for more cerebral thrills and a sock-’em Denzel, The Equalizer is something to behold. Melancholy, brooding, occasionally bloody, The Equalizer is deftly directed by Antoine Fuqua, and has plenty of moments that make you want to punch the air with a “whoop whoop”. Is it perfect? Nah, but what film really is?
As a child of the 80’s I’m aware of the existence of the Edward Woodward-starring Equalizer television series, which aired through the latter half of that decade on CBS (and even down here in Australia!), although I admit to never having seen a single episode. Apparently it was quite good. Woodward starred as an ex-operative of some shadowy organization to righted-wrongs and aided the helpless, usually all within the space of a single 1-hour episode. Pretty sweet for an older British chap who looked as hard as flint and dealt justice with a swift disposition. Denzel Washington ain’t Edward Woodward, leastways not because he’s black but because he isn’t quite as steely-eyed as Woodward ever was. That said, I don’t think you’d want to cross Denzel when he gets the Clint Eastwood eyes going. And man, does he get them going here.
Washington plays Robert McCall, a former CIA spec-ops dude, now retired, who works at a home depot and tirelessly defends the helpless against the evildoers of this world. After dispatching a group of Russian mobsters to the afterlife, after they beat up a hooker (Chloe Grace Moretz, probably trying to typecast herself) McCall had befriended, the mobster bosses send in specialist henchman Teddy (Marton Csokas) to find out the who’s, what’s and how’s. As the various Boston underworld figures all look at each other, Teddy learns the truth about Robert and sets them on a collision course which may very well lay waste to half the city.
Antonie Fuqua directed one of my favorite late-90’s action gunfests in The Replacement Killers, which found Chow Yun Fat in his first Hollywood film, as well as sexing up Mira Sorvino (whatever happened to her?). An early Jamie Foxx role came along in Bait (which wasn’t bad, honestly), and then Training Day, a film everyone raved about but I thought was just a pretentious wank. Tears of The Sun, a Bruce Willis misfire, and King Arthur, a overly melodramatic Pirates Of The Caribbean-styled venture into the legend of the English myth, sent Fuqua’s career into a nosedive, before he resurrected himself with Shooter, a film Mark Wahlberg made work when it probably shouldn’t have. Fuqua’s a mysterious director; his talent for framing, visual style and elegant action sequences, are first class, yet the man hasn’t quite struck the big-leagues. I really wish he would. Still, The Equalizer goes a long way to resolving these issues: it’s top shelf intelligent, designed to be smooth caramel instead of bright, glitzy Statham-esque violent, and it casts Washington as a character he could play in his sleep – dangerous, quiet, methodical, and ultimately, near-superhuman.
The Equalizer will surprise a few people, I think, in that’s it’s not the most balls-out action film you’ll see this year. It’s a reflective, almost apologetic thriller, with moments of action thrown in. Washington is magnetic as usual, infusing McCall with a hard-nails edginess when things start to “happen”. McCall isn’t his most developed character, but he makes more of this one-note cliche than many seasoned actors ever could. McCall is the prototypical “retired operative” type, the Liam-Neeson-in-Taken styled ass-kicker who doesn’t say a lot but when he does, boy do you want to listen. It’s not a stretch for Washington’s skill set, but rather than simply be the muscular heroic alpha male most films of this ilk espouse, Denzel aims at a more circumspect, more regretful characterization that makes his life, his arc, more purposeful and, in many ways, more focused.
Marton Csokas, as the highly volatile and dangerous Teddy, is terrific, even though he does venture into Gary Oldman’s Leon: The Professional territory a few too many times. Csokas plays this kind of role with an oily smarm, almost condescending, and the hunter is easily the most fun to play. Teddy is a sociopath, and a terrific hunter, and the cat-and-mouse game he plays with McCall is dynamite thriller territory. It’s not fast paced, instead allowing the story and situational tension to rise, marinade within itself and eventually become a dynamite explosion of death and vengeance, as well as good old fashioned vigilante justice. Chloe Grace Moretz, she of Hitgirl fame, has what ends up being a fairly small role as a Russian hooker McCall befriends, and the pivot in which the story’s entire premise crystallizes. It’s a low-key role for her, and one she’ll hardly be remembered for, but Moretz is classy enough to pull off a thankless part with aplomb. Small roles to David Harbor (as a crooked cop), and Bill Pullman and the chameleonic Melissa Leo as colleagues of McCall from the CIA, add weight to the Euro-trash nature of the character roster, yet it’s wholly Washington’s film.
Fuqua brings a sense of low-key frisson to the film; The Equalizer is a lovely looking movie, whether it be light, darkness or shadow, the film’s style and tone all work in harmony to enhance both the characters and the story. Fuqua’s a visual director of the first order, and he brings his a-game to this movie, for sure. It’s a shame he won’t be directing to another Oscar for Best Actor like he did in Training Day, at least not here, but this isn’t a film worthy of that consideration. Its pulp-inspired plotting, its largely singularly dimensional characters, and a convincing set of performances by Washington and Csokas make The Equalizer an appealingly deft thriller that hits a few brain cells as it unspools into explosions and gunfire. I found it a tremendously convincing film.
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