Got a Problem?
Odds Against You?
Call The Equalizer.
Denzel Washington is back, in a major way, with The Equalizer, based on the 1980s television series. Robert McCall works at a Home Depot-type store in Boston, and when he sees injustice, he doesn’t write a blog about it, he doesn’t call the cops, and he doesn’t form a neighborhood watch; he exacts swift retribution, evening the odds for the regular people who need help dealing with villainous scum who always try to keep them down.
The first act of the film is a slow burn, too slow for some, but not for me. Denzel appears to be playing an OCD version of his usual everyman protagonist, working a forty-hour week at his store and eating the same dish at the same diner every night, sharing life advice and literary tips with an under-aged Russian call girl Chloe Moretz. While she is strangely underutilized in the film, all but disappearing after setting the plot in motion, her exclusion was surely a small price to pay for the film’s break-neck pacing.
Denzel Washington, slimmer than when we last saw him, really shines in what might otherwise be a rather standard, but still engaging, action story. As a knight in shining armor in a world where there are no knights left, Denzel’s Bob McCall is one of the most gloriously righteous ass-kickers this side of Tom Laughlin’s Billy Jack, in that he is shown to be a rather affable man, but when confronted with danger, he will unleash brutal and efficient violence on bad guys who have it coming. On one hand, the violence may be too much for some viewers, and I at times couldn’t help but think of myself as the board member in the final scene of Robocop who stands up for a better view in anticipation for the pending slaughter, but on the other hand… These villains totally and completely have it coming. Also, unlike many revenge or everyman action flicks, The Equalizer never goes out of its way to punish its protagonist; McCall has the desire to do good, the expertise to do bad, and once he starts, he doesn’t stop. He’s a man of few words, and, though he doesn’t state it, he appreciates the opportunity to put to use his rather particular set of skills. Perhaps he even takes pleasure in it, or maybe it’s just his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which causes him to put his all into everything he does. The movie tells us that it is our civic duty to battle injustice with the talents we have, and McCall is simply using what he’s got to do what he can.
Regardless of ethical debate and the moral grey-area of Denzel’s character, there’s no denying that the villains are vicious monsters, bottom feeders who feed off the pain and suffering of the weak and defenseless. The face of this organized crime ring is Kevin Spacey… Wait, actually it’s Marton Csokas, but he looks a lot like Kevin Spacey at times, and he’s written to be step above the average mustache-twirler, at least once the stakes begin to grow out of hand.
Just as Denzel’s performance obliterates and memory I had of the abysmal 2 Guns, Antoine Fuqua, who previously directed Washington to a Best Actor Oscar for Training Day, eschews the drab style of his disappointingly bland Olympus Has Fallen in favor of pairing his kinetics with the film’s pitch-perfect pacing, wherein the action gets increasingly stylized and audacious as the film builds its tension to a fever pitch. Sure, a couple of the slow-mo shots could have been tossed out in editing, and the whole Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes tool of scanning-before-a-fight is nothing short of gratuitous (just get to the nineteen-second beatdown already!), but these are small blemishes, at worst, on a film which knows how to create a whole world in 131 minutes.
The Equalizer almost plays like a horror movie, but instead of drunk teenagers, it’s evil mobsters, and instead of some demon in a mask, the killer is a tranquil, civic-minded, middle-aged Denzel Washington. See it.
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