For some, the only knowledge that they have of The Equalizer is that it was referenced briefly in last year’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Others are more cognizant of the television show that ran from the mid to late 80’s, but one doesn’t need to know anything about it to have a good time. The Equalizer is an escapist action movie that probably would have been better suited coming out in the summer, but will likely do even stronger business without the direct competition. This isn’t the best work by either director Antoine Fuqua or star Denzel Washington by any stretch, but it’s very solid work and a real crowd pleaser as well. There’s an inherently pleasing nature to watching Denzel essentially be a superhero crossed with Robin Hood, so despite the lack of tension, there’s fun to be had. There are missteps, including wasting Chloe Grace Moretz and a climax that’s about three times longer than it needs to be, but The Equalizer is easy to recommend as a successful action movie. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it knows how to deliver on what it promises. It might be a faithful recreation of the TV show (I wouldn’t know, personally), but it does work as a stand alone action film.
You’d be forgiven for mistaking Robert McCall (Washington) for a monk of some sort. He lives alone in a sparse apartment, has everything neat and tidy, runs his life literally by clockwork, and mostly keeps to himself. He does socialize with his co-workers at the hardware superstore he’s employed at, as well as a young prostitute named Teri (Moretz) at the diner he reads/drinks tea in when he perpetually can’t sleep. He may seem like a monk, but he’s merely hiding the intelligence agency/special ops past that he managed to escape. McCall will have no choice but to bring it out when Teri is savagely beaten by her Russian mob pimp. He initially goes to their club to buy her freedom, but when they mock him, he eliminates them brutally and quickly. This gets the attention of higher ups in the mafia, who call in specialist “Teddy” (Marton Csokas) to find out what happened and to clean everything up. This puts the two on a collision course, with McCall always seemingly one step ahead. There’s never really any doubt who’s going to win at any given time, so most of the fun is in seeing how McCall outsmarts someone, as opposed to wondering if he’s going to make it out alive.
This role isn’t demanding too much out of Denzel Washington, but at the same time he doesn’t sleepwalk his way through. The part mainly needs him to be a quiet and wise badass, cool in a way that never calls attention to itself. That sort of lower key character fits Washington pretty well, so you easily accept him as McCall. He does make it all look a bit too easy, but that’s more or less what happens when you have an A-list superstar at a certain age and a screenplay that never really gives the character a challenge. Washington is in his comfort zone, for better or worse. As for Chloe Grace Moretz, she’s solid for sure, but disappears for a massive section of the film, which makes her presence feel like a real waste. Marton Csokas doesn’t have as bad an accent as some will expect, though his villain is pretty much a cartoon character. In supporting roles we have the likes of David Harbour, Melissa Leo, and Bill Pullman, but Washington is the only star in this sky.
Antoine Fuqua has a real comfortable relationship with Washington, which benefits the production. He gives the film the right level of brutality and silliness to balance out the grim moments, something he wasn’t able to do with Olympus Has Fallen. The script by Richard Wenk is far from Shakespeare, but it gets the job done. During the first third, we have almost a character study on our hands, while the middle section is a slow reveal of McCall’s skills. Both parts work, but the third act overdoes it and becomes way too silly. The other element that didn’t succeed for me is McCall’s relationship with his co-workers. It winds up becoming something that plays into the end, but not in a satisfying way. When he’s righting small wrongs, you can dig it. But when he’s really saving the day, it seems like just too much.
Overall, The Equalizer is one of the better action films to come along in some time, but that’s not exactly a genre that’s been high on quality of late. The movie showcases Denzel Washington as a badass, which we can all get behind, but it never elevates things to that special level of an instant classic. There’s more than enough here to be worthy of a recommendation, but enthusiasm isn’t exactly going to be through the roof. The Equalizer is going to be great on cable one day, but for now, it’s more than acceptable enough on the big screen.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!