The Equalizer (2014)
“What do you see when you look at me?”
The Equalizer (2014)
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz
Synopsis: A man believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and has dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when he meets a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t stand idly by – he has to help her.
I never watched The Equalizer TV show back in the 1980s, but I can’t imagine the slightly portly figure of Edward Woodward getting up to the kind of antics Denzel Washington (Philadelphia, Flight) does in Antoine Fuqua’s movie version. Washington’s Robert McCall is a laid back insomniac with a touch of OCD and the slightest hint of incipient madness. That calm stillness and high likability quotient hide a ferocious warrior mentality that can see him wipe out a room of armed Russian gangsters in less than half-a-minute without even running short of breath. In fact, he has the kind of spartan, ordered lifestyle that would appeal to a serial killer, and you sense that the cause of his chronic insomnia is his retirement from the killing game. He misses snapping necks and crushing windpipes.
McCall, a former government assassin, has retired following a promise made to his deceased wife, and leads a quiet life as a sales assistant in a DIY warehouse. His unwavering routine sees him spending the early hours of the morning in a small diner, where he makes the acquaintance of reluctant teenage hooker, Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz – Kick Ass, Carrie). She’s forced into prostitution by stereotypical Russian gangsters, and when her refusal to submit to the violent whims of a client results in her ending up in hospital, McCall takes it upon himself to resolve her situation. When his offer of money is disdainfully rejected by mob boss Slavi (David Meunier), McCall has no problem – morally or physically – wiping out him and his entire entourage in a clinically calculated and merciless attack. He could reasonably expect that to be the end of the matter (the police don’t seem to exist in Equalizer-land), but Slavi was only halfway up the Russian Mafia food chain, and frighteningly cold-blooded sociopath Teddy (Marton Csokas – The Debt, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is despatched from the Motherland to hunt down and exterminate whoever is behind the slaughter.
The Equalizer is a typical Hollywood wish-fulfilment fantasy aimed at every little guy who has ever lacked the nerve to fight back (that’s you and me and everyone else who isn’t a mindless thug). It’s perhaps more polished than your average movie, but then Washington is still pretty near the top of the pile, despite closing in on 60, so it’s expected that he’d continue to have his pick of the better quality projects out there. Nevertheless, The Equalizer repeatedly strays close to the border between good and bad. It looks good, and is expertly put together, but it’s essentially mindless entertainment with little purpose other than to pass a couple of hours. Although we’re shown the incidental symptoms of McCall’s psychological condition, we don’t learn much about his background – possibly because The Equalizer is clearly intended to be the first of a franchise which will presumably expand on his back story. Filling in the blanks is all well and good when the franchise is complete, but it leaves too much unexplained while getting there, especially as McCall seems to possess near-superhuman powers of combat and recovery.
While Washington is his usual amiable and charismatic self, it’s Csokas who steals the movie as the chilling Russian executioner who is, in many respects, a mirror image of McCall. He’s how McCall could have turned out if the American hadn’t had whatever breaks separate the two men, and he is as fascinating as he is frightening. Chloe Grace Moretz gets so little screen time that you wonder why the producers went for such a big name in what amounts to a minor supporting role.
The Equalizer will entertain those who want to switch off their brains and root for the guy they wish they were, but it’s instantly forgettable and bears no closer relation to the real world than a Stan Lee superhero flick.
(Reviewed 27th June 2015)