Directed by: Antoine Fuqua.
Written by: Richard Wenk based on the television series by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim.
Starring: Denzel Washington (Robert McCall), Marton Csokas (Teddy), Chloë Grace Moretz (Teri), David Harbour (Masters), Haley Bennett (Mandy), Bill Pullman (Brian Plummer), Melissa Leo (Susan Plummer), David Meunier (Slavi), Johnny Skourtis (Ralphie), Alex Veadov (Tevi), Vladimir Kulich (Vladimir Pushkin).
Denzel Washington has essentially been on cruise control ever since he won his second Oscar for Training Day back in 2001 – and you could argue that even Training Day is little more than a decent genre film, with two great performances in it. For every time Washington has collaborated with a great director like Spike Lee in Inside Man or Ridley Scott on American Gangster or Robert Zemeckis on Flight, he seems to have four or five mindless action films. There is a reason why – beyond simply that they make money – Washington is sought out by the directors of these films – and that is that Washington is capable of making even the ridiculous seem at least somewhat plausible. Take his latest, The Equalizer, where he reteams with his Training Day director Antoine Fuqua (who it must be said is competent director of movies like this, that kind of lucked into Training Day). In the film, Washington plays Robert McCall, a former CIA operative who can take out a room full of people in under 20 seconds, who has “retired” and is working at a Home Depot like store. He meets Teri (Chloe Grace Mortez) – who works as a prostitute for Russian gangsters – at an all-night diner, and when it becomes clears she’s being abused he snaps into action – killing a bunch of Russian gangsters. He finds he’s good at it, and decides he’ll help other people who need it – all the while, he’s being tracked by Teddy (Marton Csokas) – an even worse Russian gangster who wants to know what happened to his boss’ men. The whole movie is patently ridiculous from beginning to end – yet damn it all if Washington doesn’t sell it.
The film is stylishly directed by Fuqua – who has always been good at action sequences, and even if at times in The Equalizer he tries too hard to be Tony Scott (in the sequences where McCall visualizes what he’s about to do before he does it), he still knows how to stage an action sequences, and he does so with skill here. It may take a while for the movie to kick into high gear in terms of action, but it is worth the wait – even if the movie never quite tops its first action sequence.
The non-action sequence are anchored by Washington, who makes his character believable, even though there is nothing remotely believable if you stop to think about it at all. His early scenes with Mortez are very good – as the two bond and banter, and generally complement each other well – kind of like the unlikely pairing of Washington and Dakota Fanning in Man on Fire (one of the better Washington genre offerings post-Training Day).
The Equalizer has its share of problems. At over two hours, the film drags on too long – which is especially apparent since none of the action sequences are as good as the first, and the fact that movie misses Mortez when he character essentially vanishes in the second half. And, for the second week in a row, we have a movie where women are portrayed more as victims than as real human beings (last week’s was A Walk Among the Tombstones – which The Equalizer outdoes simply by having speaking roles for women, but cannot match for its stylish atmosphere). The film has a somewhat episodic structure – which I guess comes from the television show it is based on (which I had no idea of). The film kind of limps towards the finish line.
Overall though, The Equalizer is a decent example of the kind of ultra-violent, revenge fantasy film it wants to be. No, it’s not as ambitious as Washington at its best – it doesn’t even really attempt anything new, different, or all that interesting. And it’s the type of film you forget about by the time you reach the parking lot. But there are worse things a film can be.