by Adam Riske
I can’t say that I’m surprised or disappointed by the end result of The Equalizer, directed by the competent if nondescript Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen). I wasn’t expecting it to set my world on fire, but I was expecting it to be better than...this. It’s a lousy movie, one rung below an interesting failure, in which Denzel Washington is actually its biggest problem. He is miscast and acting as much as an executive as a star.
Denzel Washington carries a different type of energy than that of The Equalizer. Where Denzel is intelligent and a little grim, this movie is fucking ridiculous so it needs a lighter touch. Patrick mentioned in a Heavy Action column way back the concept of “the other,” which is (I’m paraphrasing) essentially a larger-than-life presence who is an outlier, someone uniquely different than everyone else. Denzel Washington is not that. The Equalizer should have been played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal. It’s their type of movie. It’s not Man on Fire.
Commando, but instead it feels similar to the dock sequence in Batman Begins with Washman jumping out of the shadows. The tone is off. We have a ridiculous story trying to be gritty.
The plot in brief: Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is trying to lead a quiet life and leave his mysterious past behind him. McCall fills his days with a regimen that includes visiting a local diner late every night, having a cup of tea and reading a book. At the diner, McCall meets Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young girl who is a prostitute for a ring run by local Russian gangsters. Knowing he has to help her (and he’s the only one who can), McCall chooses to exact vengeance against the employers who abuse her.
I mentioned that the movie is one rung below an interesting failure and I mean that, because while the movie more or less sucks, it has interesting elements. I thought it was neat that the Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo characters have their roles reversed, where Leo is Washington’s old chum and Pullman is basically the supportive wife. It doesn’t lead anywhere, but the effort is admirable. I also found The Equalizer to have an interesting spin on the superhero genre. A big portion of the reason Leo’s character is on hand is so she can acknowledge that McCall is essentially asking her permission to be The Equalizer again. It reminded me of Peter Parker’s existential plight in Spider-Man 2, or the speech from David Carradine at the end of Kill Bill where he extolls on how Superman is Superman, pretending to be Clark Kent. In this case, McCall is The Equalizer and not the man trying to leave his past behind. He does what he does because it’s in his DNA, figuratively, to do what he does because he can. The superhero motif is also supported by an interesting shot mid-way through the movie featuring The Equalizer’s main villain (played by Martin Csokas), who is filmed upside down momentarily so that it looks like he’s an evil tattooed presence flying over the city, ready to swoop down on people like a vulture.
That being said, The Equalizer is sludge to get through. I was bored. It’s lazy and mindless. The movie is over-the-top in a way where it’s just a slow retreat into violence for the sake of violence, but not dealt with in a fun way. It’s all heavy-handed. The pace in endless. It’s not entertaining in the way that great trash can be. Sigh.
There’s a scene about 2/3 of the way into the movie where Denzel walks away from an explosion and it’s so ludicrous that it made me pause for a minute and think "This is the guy from Philadelphia and Malcolm X!" Is he officially in his Joseph Cotton/Dr. Phibes phase? I wanted to scream out “No!” It’s such a waste of talent.