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The Equalizer – Movie Review

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The Equalizer – Reviewed by David Turpin

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Mortez

Notionally based on a 1980s television series that made an unlikely U.S. star of The Wicker Man’s Edward Woodward, The Equalizer reunites Denzel Washington with his Training Day director, Antoine Fuqua, for another bout of violent mayhem. Washington is doing his taciturn avenger routine here (see also: Man on Fire, The Book of Eli, Safe House), playing Robert McCall, a former government agent who has opted for a quiet life. McCall divides his time between a day job at a hardware store, where he lectures his co-workers (including an appealing Johnny Skourtis) about their eating habits, and night-owl duties at a diner where he reads Hemmingway (who else?) and drinks tea. All this changes when circumstances, and his innate call to heroism, conspire to put him into conflict with the Russian mafia. Guess who prevails?

As the teenage hooker whose mistreatment spurs McCall into action, Chloë Grace Moretz has little more than a glorified cameo, although she’s to be commended for sporting no fewer than three different wigs in her ten minutes of screentime (including a severe bob which, after Kick Ass 1 & 2 and If I Stay is clearly her style of choice). Jodie Foster’s turn in Taxi Driver is an obvious reference point for the part, but the precocious Moretz lacks Foster’s striking combination of sourness and innocence, and her rapport with the stoic Washington never rings true. As the chief heavy, rather amusingly named Teddy, Marton Csokas appears to be enjoying himself, although his accent doesn’t seem ready to commit.

The niceties of performance, though, are of little importance for a film that knows its audience as well as this one, and expectations for righteous carnage are more than met. One of the problems of the film, however, is that – since McCall is written and played as an unassailable superman – there is little suspense in the bountiful action. There’s no real question of whether McCall will prevail, meaning viewer interest has to be held by the violent specifics of how he does so. Unlike, say, Batman’s refusal to handle a gun, McCall’s wariness of firearms doesn’t seem to stem from a reluctance to kill – instead, he dispenses summary executions with whatever is to hand, making for a panoply of stabbings, electrocutions and garrotings (including one with barbed wire), as well as a whistle-stop tour of alternate uses for hardware goods. Curiously, The Equalizer has a lot in common with 1980s slasher films, in which the attraction comes mainly from outlandish methods of murder rather than from conventional tension. If you imagined Jason Voorhees as a righteous avenger who occasionally uttered aphorisms about “body, mind, spirit”, you wouldn’t be far off. Like Man on Fire (2004), The Equalizer also features an elaborate but rather ludicrous torture sequence that leaves a bad taste in the mouth, although The Equalizer thankfully never approaches Man on Fire’s execrable blend of saccharine and splatter.

Mercifully, it’s not all grim and gruesome – The Equalizer also features a “man walks away from explosion” scene so wildly excessive, so insanely solemn, you wonder if anybody will ever be able to top it. Naomi Shohan’s production design is a pulpy tour-de-force too, with a pleasingly surreal money laundering complex, and a Russian restaurant-cum-mafia den that recalls David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, with the dial turned up to eleven.

At 131 minutes, The Equalizer delivers a super-size portion of which McColl himself would surely disapprove. When the last of its four endings sets up a franchise that will presumably deliver more of the same, one can’t help but hope it comes in a somewhat leaner package. Still, fans of stony glares, slow motion and ultraviolence will be hanging out the bunting. Aficionados of Edward Woodward’s Equalizer, who wrapped up each case inside of an hour and never stabbed anybody with a corkscrew, may have to look elsewhere.

1 reply »

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