The film adaptation of The Equalizer is a outdated remnant from a bygone era. For starters, the movie is based on an American TV show which debuted way back in the Fall 1985. It ran for four seasons and starred British actor Edward Woodward. However the trappings have more in common with cinematic action hero tropes of the 80s than it does with the less graphic CBS series. The protagonist is a one man army against insurmountable odds. This man possesses a godlike dexterity for fighting. He dismantles the entire East Coast Russian underworld with surprising ease. Stepping into Woodward’s badass shoes is Denzel Washington. Denzel is basically Stallone in Rambo: First Blood Part II or Arnold in Commando. Apparently 1985 was the high point for this sort of thing. Those flicks, like the TV drama, all came out that year.
After a very slow beginning, The Equalizer takes off when a young prostitute named Terri is assaulted by the Russian mobsters who run a human trafficking ring. This gives our lead a reason to, you know like, actually do something. But the way the scenario plays out is by the numbers as well. The plot is so been there, done that. Denzel Washington is Robert McCall, a middle aged retired intelligence officer who helps people in trouble, in particular an underage girl played by Chloë Grace Moretz. Their relationship and McCall’s personality bring to mind Taxi Driver (1976), Léon: The Professional (1994) and even Denzel’s own Man on Fire (2004) at various points in the narrative. It’s hard not to feel director Antoine Fuqua’s effort is cobbled together from the generic story threads of half a dozen other films.
Denzel Washington plays a man of few words. His roles often have a self righteous quality that invests his individuals with an air of moral superiority. He is supposed to register steely resolve but he’s so unexcitable he’s practically catatonic. After various captives witness his superhuman abilities, they inevitably ask, “Who are you?” If this was Arnold circa 1985, he’d quip “I’m the Equalizer!” in a thick Austrian accent. But Denzel seems to just quietly ignore the question time and again. The third time the question is asked, it’s almost comical. McCall has always meted out harsh justice as a last resort, but by the end, he is simply out for vengeance. The climatic showdown takes place in a Home Depot-like warehouse. He exhibits a cruelly sadistic streak that takes down his enemies in a vigilante revenge fantasy. There’s a way to put someone out of commission efficiently without resorting to sadism but his creative uses for hardware equipment are barbaric. As he preyed upon the villians in the dark, I felt I was watching a slasher film. You know things have gone horribly wrong when you start to feel sorry for the bad guys.