Equalizer, The (2014)
Release Date: September 26th, 2014 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Antoine Fuqua Actors: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo
ike many movies about extraordinary, larger-than-life characters, “The Equalizer” begins by showing routines; mundane activities like shaving, dressing, preparing breakfast, and commuting. Here, the stalwart hero, Bob McCall (Denzel Washington), actually labors for Home Mart (a not so subtly disguised Home Depot), but it’s all a setup to conceal a considerable set of ex-military and former governmental special agent skills. His coworkers erroneously guess at his mysterious past, hypothesizing that he previously served on Wall Street or sold insurance.
Being an insomniac, Bob stays out late each night at the Bridge Diner in Boston to read books (each of which impart motifs and clear references to his current undertakings and philosophies, including identifying with Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” Cervantes’ “Don Quixote,” or Ellison’s “Invisible Man”). A regular late night visitor, Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz), an aspiring singer but a prostitute (using the name Teri) in reality, occasionally trades small talk. When she doesn’t show up one evening, McCall is informed that she’s in the ICU, having been badly beaten by her pimp, Slavi (David Meunier). Witnessing a gross injustice and unable to sit idly by, McCall is drawn into her dark, violent world, filled with criminals and killers – a world he’s not exactly unfamiliar with.
Thanks to patient character development and far too many supporting characters (such as an overweight associate receiving training to be a security guard, corrupt cops extorting protection money, and a holdup at the hardware store), the first act of “The Equalizer” is very brooding and somewhat repetitive (with flashbacks, quickly abandoned obsessive compulsive disorder idiosyncrasies, and editing techniques for heightened anticipation or calmed senses). But his initial handling of the Russian Nights Escort Service and its conventionally tattooed gangsters, which results in what the media call a gangland style execution based on turf warfare between rival factions, paints McCall out to be a moderately superhuman yet nevertheless believably formidable opponent. The mystery is no longer about who he was, but rather where his meting out of vigilante recompense will take him (here, there’s a lot of depravity to equalize).
Like Liam Neeson, Washington is an unusual action star, effectively obscuring his age while posing as a good samaritan to fix other people’s situations and thwart villainy. Commonly, he begins with extremely sophisticated intellect, reconnaissance, and counterintelligence, before being forced to unleash jaw-dropping, macho one-liners and the martial arts and improvised deadly weaponry to back it up. Unfortunately, the baddies McCall contends with are hopelessly stereotypical, while the ringleader, a top henchman named Nicolai, a.k.a. Teddy (Marton Csokas), is so obligatorily cruel and maniacal that he’s almost comical. In an attempt to make him uniquely evil, the filmmakers have also made his intimidatory attributes fruitless.
It’s fun and entertaining to deal with a hero who is consistently smarter than his adversaries, and here, like many of Steven Seagal’s roles, Washington delivers rattlingly cool lines and dishes out bloody retribution without ever losing his vantage. He’s interesting enough to sustain the 130-minute runtime, even though the finale is far too lengthy and enormously over-the-top (for some reason, he refuses to use a gun, instead orchestrating different, distinctive, gruesome, “Home Alone” styled booby traps for every random enemy). The climax is, in fact, so overzealously rambunctious, destructive, and far-fetched, that it detracts from the impressiveness of McCall’s earlier, reasonably believable mental and physical combat proficiency – to the point of turning the entire character into something of a joke.
– Mike Massie