The Equalizer

The Equalizer photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgThe film adaptation of The Equalizer is a outdated remnant from a bygone era.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.

09-28-14

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25 Responses to “The Equalizer”

  1. Great review. Even from the trailer this one seems very familiar. From your review it doesn’t sound like I’m missing an awful lot by failing to find time to see this one so far.

  2. I would have liked to see more expansion on who McCall is/was, but for the most part, imo, I was entertained more often than not, even if it is by the book. Great review.

  3. Had a great time watching this, cool dumb action thriller. How about him walking away from the biggest explosion ever, looked awesome.

  4. garylee828 Says:

    You’re wrong, Mark!! This was a badass movie!! 🙂

    • This has been done before so it’s fun to compare Antoine Fuqua’s effort with the way Martin Scorsese, Luc Besson and Tony Scott have all handled this material in the past.

      • garylee828 Says:

        Yeah, I liked the way he didn’t spew out corny one-liners and was focused. I loved the final act. The way they took their time and didn’t rush it like so many other finales. I thought the song they played over the showdown was epic and fit the mood to-the-tee. This was a film I feel was very strongly executed. Maybe not totally original as you pointed out others have written and directed similar films, but I thought this was executed superbly and that makes all the difference. Even though those others you mentioned were great in their own right. To mention “The Equalizer” in the same vein is quite a compliment. 🙂

  5. I liked this a lot more than you did. Including the slasher bits haha! I found myself wanting it to end at some-point, but only because of the vicious and unneeded run-time. Standard good verse evil with a few changes and moments of freshness (not basing it around the damsel in distress, great villain and the cool style).

    Those 80’s movies meant a lot to me. I also used to watch a ton of B-Movies that followed the same formula’s! So it managed to be a fun throwback for me!

    Great review and I can totally see your points! Minus the fact that I am glad he resorted to sadism, or else the last scene wouldn’t have been so fun haha.

  6. I’be not seen this one yet. But I live on a street in Manhattan where some of the Woodward Equalizer shot some exteriors.

    I will be seeing Chloe Grace Moretz in a film called Laggies at the Mill Valley Film Festival tomorrow night.

    Sent from my tablet while winging towards SF.

    Sorry the film wasn’t up to Denzel usual high standards. Very fine review Mark .

    • Thanks Mike. I could watch Keira Knightley and/or Sam Rockwell in anything so Laggies looks right up my alley. Oh how I wish I were going. The insightful pieces you write will have to suffice this time. 🙂

  7. Denzel being Denzel is alright with me. However, it didn’t need to be nearly two-and-a-half-hours long. Good review Mark.

  8. Great review. I liked this even less than you did!

  9. Excellent review, seems like I shouldn’t be too peeved I couldn’t find the time for this. I figured a quiet night at home might be a better time to watch Denzel predictably pick off every danger that is flung his way in his latest film. lol

  10. martin250 Says:

    Thank you for the review Mark. I wasn’t sure about whether to watch this. but your last paragraph is enough to keep me away from it. nice observation about Denzel’s self righteous characters. they are getting too repetitive.

  11. I love ’80s action films and I love Denzel in almost everything, so I’m disappointed to hear that The Equalizer comes off uninspired from its story to Washington’s “catatonic” character. Normally the hardware store finale would sound amazing to me, but it seems to be way over the top based on your description. I wonder if I’d feel sorry for the bad guys while watching this too.

    • It’s funny how The Equalizer was a fairly big hit back in early October and somewhat forgotten by December.

      In contrast, The Grand Budapest Hotel came out in March and made half the money.

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