The Equalizer (2014)

What do you see when you look at me?

The last time filmmaker Antoine Fuqua and actor Denzel Washington collaborated — back in 2001 — their powerful, gripping crime thriller, Training Day, became critically praised, earning Denzel his first Best Male Actor Oscar triumph, having previously been nominated for roles in Malcolm X (1992) and The Hurricane (1999). Now, The Equalizer sees Denzel reunited with director Fuqua, portraying his tough, no-nonsense, onscreen persona, which has made Washington the iconic superstar he is today.

The Equalizer opens with a title card, featuring an enigmatic quotation from author Mark Twain, ‘The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why;’ offering some early food for thought from the get-go. Loosely based on the classic 80s television series of the same name, starring Edward Woodward, The Equalizer sees a pensive, somewhat brooding, Denzel Washington, as Robert McCall, a man who has put his shadowy past long behind him, dedicating his time to living out a new, quiet, and simple existence. McCall works at an ordinary home improvement hardware store and keeps to himself for the most part; his workmates — who McCall often helps and encourages — know very little about his mysterious past. McCall seems to be a friendly man, striking up amiable conversation with familiars wherever he goes. Some hints of his former life are exposed throughout the opening act of the film, but nothing is made certain, however, audiences quickly discover that McCall is a man not to be crossed.

Open for Business!
Open for Business!

When Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young girl — an apparent sex-worker under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters — who McCall has, to some extent, come to know — by means of running into while on customary late-night trips to his favorite diner — is beaten up and hospitalized, McCall feels compelled to aid her, as his conscience does not allow him to simply stand idle and observe. Armed with hidden skills, allowing him to serve vengeance against anyone who brutalizes the helpless, McCall comes out of his self-imposed retirement and finds his yearning for justice reawakened. McCall isn’t infallible nor is he’s looking for trouble, he just wants what’s right, and will endeavor to defend the vulnerable and innocent — ‘equalizing’ the odds stacked up against them — no matter the cost.

Like a rousing piece of music that begins very softly then swells into an explosive crescendo, The Equalizer takes its time establishing character before nose-diving into a murky sea of no return, in which mind-games are the foundation of the hard-hitting, ultra-violent, action. Audiences are slowly introduced to Robert McCall — his exactitude, attention to detail and habitual everyday life — with his shaved head, polished shoes and peculiar routine, such as folding a tea-bag into a serviette, then taking it to drink at his preferred diner. McCall’s apartment is just as sparse, being extremely tidy with little to no personalization, bar the countless number books which grace his shelves — McCall often takes a book to read on his late-night diner visits when he is unable to sleep, attempting to get through the, ‘100 Books You Need to Read Before You Die’ list.

Denzel's reign of retribution!
Denzel’s reign of retribution!

As the picture progresses, McCall’s eyes and his astute observations becomes one of the film’s key aspects, as Fuqua regularly hones in on Washington’s iris, notably when he is calculating odds in the many dire situations he finds himself entangled in, with the first transpiring in a lavish Russian restaurant where a brutal slaughter takes place. Teddy — played by an unsettling Marton Csokas, xXx (2000) — a softly spoken, heavy tattooed sociopath, is soon brought in to repair the volatile situation caused by McCall, leaving the multi-million dollar Russian illicit drug and prostitution ring in jeopardy, thus setting off an edgy, riddle filled cat-and-mouse relationship between the two professional killers, Teddy and McCall, resulting in some of the picture’s more, nerve-wracking, uneasy scenes.

Denzel Washington, Man on Fire (2004), delivers a rather astonishing performance, displaying a multitude of emotions, largely through his expressive face and eyes: pain, regret, determination, dismay, justice, certainty and resolve. It’s also in Denzel’s authentic portrayal that audiences willingly accept the way McCall takes control of the rapidly unraveling situation, relying on early character establishment in which McCall’s genuine concern for his fellow man is revealed. A provocatively dressed Chloë Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass (2010), though only having limited screen-time, comes off as legitimately earnest and wounded, with Teri originally scripted as an older character, but made younger in age by the request of director Fuqua, following Moretz’s impressive audition. As a collective whole, all the chief players in The Equalizer excel; be sure to watch out for Bill Pullman, Independence Day (1996), and Melissa Leo, Prisoners (2013), as Brian and Susan Plummer, in their minor, but crucial roles.

Thug Life chose me!
Thug Life chose me!

Written by Richard Wenk, The Expendables 2 (2012), the screenplay is erupting with tension that steadily bursts with a brutal stroke, as McCall is called to use his concealed skillset through the element of surprise, propelling the action and drama forward. The climatic sequence, set in a home improvement store, is quite impressive, as McCall leads the Russian mercenaries to a gruesome fate, making use of the readily available artillery — such as drills, barbwire and other such tool-like materials — rather creatively. All the while, the dynamic score by Harry Gregson-Williams, Kingdom of Heaven (2005), accentuates the excitement and raises the stakes, becoming more amplified as the picture gradually unfolds. Significant credit must also go out to Oscar-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore, Training Day (2001), whose visually striking imagery captures the city of Boston — in which the film is set — in a haunting and stylish fashion.

Running at a whopping, slightly over-long, 131 minutes, The Equalizer does outdo its welcome, as the film seems to drag a tad in its closing moments. With gripping suspense, fine performances and meticulous direction — Fuqua clearly knows this genre undeniably well — The Equalizer is one of the better action thrillers of recent years. Unfortunately though, unlike Washington and Fuqua’s last partnership, it’s highly unlikely Denzel will, once again, be awarded an Oscar for this commanding performance.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

The Equalizer is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia