I don’t know about you, but when I look at an angry Denzel, I see my life flash before my eyes. Academy Award winner Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas and Chloe Grace Moretz star in Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer.
Director – Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay – Richard Wenk
Based on characters created by Michael Sloan & Richard Lindheim
Producer – Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Denzel Washington, Alex Siskin, Steve Tisch, Mace Neufeld, Tony Eldridge & Michael Sloan
Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references
Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a middle-aged, retired Special Forces officer, who – go figure – has put his past behind him in order to live a peaceful life. However, after befriending a young girl named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), who he finds out is in the control of violent Russian gangsters, led by Teddy (Marton Csokas), he reveals to them a certain set of skills he uses against those who prey on the helpless.
Somewhere out there, Liam Neeson’s complaining about this bastard stealing his thunder.
Based on the ’80s TV series, starring the late Edward Woodward, that I remember my parents watching religiously, The Equalizer reunites director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington, who both earned success together back in 2001 with Training Day. After Brooklyn’s Finest, Shooter and last year’s Olympus Has Fallen (nothing special at all, but a masterpiece next to White House Down), Fuqua – whose Training Day, Tears of the Sun and King Arthur I really liked – hasn’t done anything worthwhile in years, so maybe teaming up with a talent like Washington helps.
It’s evident that Fuqua has a style that fits this genre. For a good portion of the first half of the film, he keeps things relatively low key, allowing us to invest in Washington’s Robert McCall. Some of the film’s finer moments are the quieter ones when it’s McCall interacting with those he knows. Once Fuqua kicks things into gear, it starts to get ridiculous. McCall’s got an extreme case of OCD that seems to give him superpowers capable of taking down five Russian gangsters in no longer than half-a-minute. I sorta bought into it, though, ’cause when Fuqua turns up the heat, he makes it gruesome, stylish fun (the scene with the gangsters is nicely paced and effectively blends bloody violence with a dash of humor), and, of course, having Washington on board to sell the role is never a bad thing.
It’s hard to believe that Denzel Washington is just a few months shy of 60. Whatever vitamins he’s taking is working ’cause I, at just 29, hope to look a tenth as good he does by the time I’m done with this review. It’s rare to find a world-class talent that’s able to combine genuine dramatic chops with a calm, cool and completely in control demeanor as spot-on as Washington can. Here, he plays it chill and smooth, even when he’s jamming a corkscrew through someone’s chin, which makes him appear all the more intimidating. We’re not getting Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, or Malcolm X or, more recently, what he gave us in Flight, but Washington delivers anyway.
Most of the supporting acts are solid, but the standout is Marton Csokas, who has a presence that’s literally screaming to be used as a Bond villain. Csokas is terrific as the lead villain, who’s all business with a side of punching someone’s face into mush. He has a few moments where he lets his utter brutality show, but it’s the quietly tense showdown between him and Washington that resonates the most. Fuqua wisely downplays the scene (having the two go loose cannon on each other would’ve seemed uncharacteristic of them), and lets the tension build through their conversation. It’s a small approach, but it ends up being one of the most riveting moments in the film.
I will add that this is the second creep I’ve seen David Harbour play in the past two weeks, so looks like his film career path is set.
Near and throughout the final act is where the film began to lose me. Writer Richard Wenk throws in an unnecessary segment involving Washington with Bill Pullman (who seems to have no more than 2-3 lines and 2 minutes of screen time here) and Melissa Leo, both talented performers given two thankless roles as intelligence officers McCall used to work for. It’s the obligatory section of the film that requires the leading man to venture out of town, so he can seek help from those in higher authority, but as crafty and intelligent as McCall is on his own, just how much help does he really need?
Also, wedging in about four endings too many, clearly an effort to wrap up as many loose ends as possible, drags the film out longer than it needs to be. What sorta redeems the third-act is when McCall sets up a “Home Alone from Hell” trap, inside a Home Depot, for the bad guys.
The Equalizer is definitely a flawed film, but I can’t say I wasn’t entertained for a good share of it. The film would’ve been better served with about fifteen minutes left on the editing room floor, but for all it’s ridiculousness, director Antoine Fuqua delivers some brutally stylish flair, and it’s pretty much impossible not to find Denzel Washington watchable. It’s not a massive return to form for Fuqua, but it’s a step back on the right track for him.
I give The Equalizer a B- (★★★).
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9/29/14 What the Hell Were They Thinking?!
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10/3/14 Gone Girl
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