The Equalizer (2014)
Denzel Washington is one of those rare actors who can elevate a movie by his screen presence. It is his star quality, along with a better than average story that makes The Equalizer a cut above your average action movie. There is a half decent attempt to transcend the usual alpha male, revenge bullshit that permeates the vigilante sub-genre and explore deeper themes. The film takes it's time to focus on Robert McCall's wider motivation, philosophy and personal morality. It ponders the nature of ethics and alludes to the notion of "knights" in a time when they're no longer required or desirable. However rather than wallow in the notion of an existential crisis, the central theme is self-determinism. On top of all this weighty pondering there's also some very hard-edged violence and death by power tools.
Director Antoine Fuqua, who previously worked with Washington on Training Day, crafts a rather languid but in-depth thriller, which takes time out to play to his leads great acting strength. McCall is not just a two-dimensional special forces cliché but a man with a soul and a strong personal philosophy. Whenever Steven Seagal strayed from action into personal musing and introspection, the audience quite justifiably told him to fuck right off. But in the case of The Equalizer, it greatly enhances the film. There is a real sense of purpose and meaning to Denzel Washington's actions which makes a welcome change, as this genre is not usually known for its depth. His character also sports some credible OCD foibles such as a tendency to time everything and a propensity to tidy.
Of course, in films such as these, there is a requirement for a suitable nemesis. On this occasion it is supplied with relish by Marton Csokas, who oozes malevolence as a Russian enforcer and once again utilises his wonderful metered diction to great effect. The film takes an unusual approach by setting the story in a distinctly blue-collar world. McCall works in a hardware and building supplies warehouse and champions the causes of his fellow workers as well as local prostitute Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz). Director Fuqua does not try and glamorise the criminal fraternity either, choosing to portray it as monolithic, perfunctory and soulless. He also wrong foots certain viewers when McCall visits his former governmental handlers. He is greeted by Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo and the person he seeks is not necessarily the one you automatically assume it to be.
One of the strongest aspects of The Equalizer are the action sequences which are extremely hard hitting and brutal. Because of the above average calibre of acting and film making, the violence is quite disturbing and may have more than a few viewers squirming in their seats (especially the shot glass in the eye). When McCall initially kills a group of Russian gangsters I was surprised at the way the carnage was dwelt on both before and after. The film also has a very strong contemporary soundtrack by Harry Gregson Williams, as well as utilising several songs to great effect. I was also impressed by Denzel Washington's succinct distillation of Ernest Hemmingway's The Old Man and the Sea. You don't expect to find literary criticism in a movie that also sports IEDs and stabbings with corkscrews.
The Equalizer ends with a rather positive message and leaves scope for a further outing for Robert McCall. Overall, the film does run a little too long and could have easily lost twenty minutes or so with tighter editing, but this seems to be a common problem with contemporary cinema. However, running time notwithstanding, The Equalizer remains an above average thriller which has additional appeal to wider audiences due to the popularity of its star and the slightly more cerebral subtext to the proceedings. At present, a second instalment is in production featuring many of the original cast and crew. The Equalizer 2 is scheduled for a release on July 20th 2018.