A former black ops commando who faked his death for a quiet life in Boston comes out of his retirement to rescue a young girl and finds himself face to face with Russian gangsters.
I’m sure there are many people who remember “The Equalizer”, the TV show from the 1980s which starred Edward Woodward as a retired intelligence agent turned private detective who helps various threatened clients equalize the odds. I’m surprised it took this long but it was only a matter of time before Hollywood remembered the show and decided to put it into production. I’m sure there are many talented actors out there who could have taken on the titular character but now that I’ve seen the movie, I can honestly say I can’t imagine anybody else other than Denzel Washington in the role.
He is that very rare actor that with a simple glance, or gesture, can go from being kind-hearted one minute to a methodical, ultraprecise killer the next. In a split second, he is able to analyze and examine his surroundings and whatever situation has presented itself to him and within seconds, amend said quandary, using anything and everything at his disposal, including but not limited to, shot glasses, corkscrews, knives and guns. The movie is not shy about its violence either, one scene in particular shows Mr. Washington ramming a corkscrew into an adversary’s chin, all the way into his mouth, slowly twisting it but these are very bad men who do very bad things and deserve whatever comes their way.
The film introduces us to Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), a retired black-ops commando who is single and works at a home-improvement store. He is liked by all of his co-workers, young and old and even helps train Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis), an overweight associate who desperately wants to get into shape so he can become the head of the store’s security. Suffering from insomnia, Robert spends his nights at a small, local diner where he befriends a young prostitute named Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz). They chat to each other occasionally and he watches over her from a distance, not letting himself get too close but one evening, after finding out that her Russian pimp beat her half to death, he decides to come to her defense and teach the bad guys a lesson in American counterinsurgency.
Antoine Fuqua directed Denzel Washington to a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in “Training Day” in 2001 and also directed the action-oriented “Shooter” with Mark Wahlberg and “Olympus has Fallen” with Gerard Butler so “The Equalizer” is a genre he is very adept at dealing with. Mr. Washington once again demonstrates what a solid, convincing actor he is and gives a very restrained performance, peaking when he must deal with the bad guys and then slowly subsiding when he has completed the task. Marton Csokas plays the film’s lead villain Teddy, and he does so with great relish. He has made quite a name for himself playing baddies in other movies such as “XXX”, “The Bourne Supremacy” and “Dream House” and here, he adds another memorable performance to his resume.
You can’t help but compare Chloë Grace Moretz’s teenage prostitute Teri, to that of Jodie Foster’s Iris in Martin Scorsese’s classic “Taxi Driver” but the difference here is that Teri doesn’t want to be in her current situation whereas Iris on the other hand, seemed perfectly content where she was, away from home. Ms. Moretz appears in the beginning of the movie and is then noticeably absent for the remainder of the film, reappearing briefly at the end but it is quite clear that although she is not seen, she is the catalyst for the events that unfold throughout and they are a direct result of McCall’s almost paternal feelings for her and his desire to set her free. Ms. Moretz is tough as nails and yet fragile as a butterfly and she creates the definitive victim without ever becoming a weakling.
The one aspect that will undoubtedly be criticized by some people, is the whole vigilante angle. A lot of the cops we meet in this movie are corrupt, they are being paid by the Russian mobsters to go out and extort money from small businesses which keeps them in business so when you can’t call the police, the people who are supposed to be protecting you, what are you supposed to do? Charles Bronson made a career out of playing vigilantes in the “Death Wish” movies and he did the things that others were afraid to do but were necessary. The character of Robert McCall is a man who respects the law and tries to do right by everyone but we all have a breaking point and believe me, when Robert reaches his, you had better make sure you are not in his immediate line of fire, otherwise, you might finish up on the other end of a corkscrew.
“The Equalizer” is not an all-out action movie per se, rather, it is more of a thinking-man’s movie, more akin to the Jack Ryan films like “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger”. It does have moments of terrific action but it spends more time giving the audience the necessary story development and character exposition needed in order for us to get to know the characters so depending which side of the line they’re standing on, we’ll either love them or hate them. Suffice to say, the end of the movie is left wide open for a sequel, depending on how well this does at the box office but in a year full of bloated and exceedingly dull action movies, it was a treat to sit down and watch such a skillfully executed thriller with plenty of room to spare.
In theaters September 26th