MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action-Thriller/ Stars: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Johnny Skourtis, Melissa Leo, Bill Pullman, Haley Bennett, Vladimir Kulich, David Meunier, Alex Veadov, James Wilcox, Mike O’Dea, Anastasia Mousis, Robert Wahlberg, Timothy John Smith, Dan Bilzerian, Sala Baker/Runtime: 132 minutes
I guess it is safe to say that the slice of cinematic pie I am reviewing today, 2014’s The Equalizer, is a movie that was distinct for the fact that this was a movie that was, at one time, tied in directly with news related to the now-infamous hacking debacle at Sony. This is because a producer on this film made the quite bold and audacious claim that even though Denzel Washington is the finest actor of his generation (a statement I happen to agree with) the color of his skin might not help this movie work as well internationally since they felt that movie goers in other countries are racist since most movies with a lead that is African American don’t typically do well. Yikes. I mean no it’s not in the same vein of almost bringing us into a conflict with a foreign power a’la The Interview, but it is still an unfortunate casualty of that mess since, among other reasons, the film itself is actually not that bad and Washington is, as par for the course, nothing short of magnificent. Indeed inspired in the loosest sense of the word possible by the iconic 80s TV show of the same name, this movie teams Washington up with regular collaborator film helmer Antoine Fuqua and whilst the end result is not a classic by any stretch of the word, it is most assuredly an engaging, smooth, and very well-made slice of cinematic pie that takes the time not to just update a show from the 80s, but also acts as a wonderful tribute to that same decade’s talent for making engaging entries in the Action genre like Death Wish whilst also taking the time to uncover some deeper thematic material hanging out just under the surface.
The plot is as follows: The Equalizer tells us the story of a man by the name of Robert McCall. A man who seems, for all intents and purposes, to be just another guy that is the kind of person we nod our head to whenever they cross our paths during our day to day lives. Indeed here is a man who lives on his own, doesn’t seem to understand the concept of sleep, and who does virtually everything in his life with a precision and muscle memory that is downright remarkable (if not just a little bit OCD). McCall also, it is worth noting, spends his days working at a Home Depot-esque store doing whatever anyone needs his help with, but here lately has been more devoted in helping a certain…fluffy shall we say co-worker who has aspirations to becoming their store’s security guard do what he needs to do in order to obtain that post. When he is not there, we see that our intrepid hero spends his time at a ‘round-the-clock café drinking tea and reading. It is at this diner where we see Robert make the acquaintance of a young woman of a certain profession and aspiring singer by the name of Teri who our hero comes to learn works for a vicious group of Russian pimps who don’t treat her the best to put it lightly. Suffice it to say then that when his new friend is badly beat up to the extent that she is hospital ridden, our hero endeavors to do what it takes to get her out of this life. Yet things soon take a turn when he discovers that is not going up against some random hoodlums, but rather a cog in a criminal empire. An empire that decides to send in a notorious hit man by the alias of “Teddy” to put an end to Robert’s meddling. Yet Robert has a few secrets of his own and soon the stage is set for a showdown between a pair of men, both highly skilled and both highly determined to do whatever it takes to ensure that they are the one still left breathing at the end of the day…
Now I should let you know dear reader that even though the dynamic duo of Washington and Fuqua are sadly not able to give us a movie that is as great as their first collaboration together, 2001’s riveting crime thriller Training Day, this film of theirs is still very well done and manages to serve as a wonderful and quite pleasing movie that is perhaps a bit darker than you might be expecting, but which retains the bleakness of Training Day whilst defining for us more clearly who the good guys and who the bad guys are. Indeed even though Training Day operated in a pretty decent size expanse of gray that as the movie went on faded so we could see just who was good and who was wicked, this film’s protagonists and antagonists are made clear right from the get-go thus enabling the audience to really get into the movie that much quicker due to how it operates more as an iconic good vs. evil narrative. With that being said though, this slice of cinematic pie is one that tinkers with thematic concepts that don’t send the moral clarity packing, but rather to help mold it and to give our intrepid hero a reason for what he does besides looking out for the everyday individual as it were. Indeed, as seen in the film, we are treated to analysis of such ideas as peoples’ pasts helping to shape who they are and what they do in this world and it is these ideas which are given to us as the motivation not entirely for our intrepid hero to dish out butt whoopin’ left and right, but rather as a moral rationale for violence begetting violence even as it goes quickly out of control and more people wind up dead than he might have anticipated when he first started his crusade. Thus this slice of cinematic pie on surface level might not seem that incredible due to operating with basic themes that have been center stage in other movies, but what distinguishes this one is the depth brought to our intrepid hero by the film’s star and it’s helmer that is something that is sorely lacking in other pictures of this particular ilk.
Now I feel it should be said that the construction of our main character is vital not because failure to do so won’t get you to support him, I mean this character IS played by Denzel Washington after all and he IS the good guy, but because the development actually manages to help to better define this guy and in the process make the film and the world of the film and the people who are a part of it worth more than they would be otherwise. This is why the movie tries to define this guy within the first 5-10 minutes and then uses its next 15 minutes to show his routines both when he is on the clock and when he is at the café since those locales are home to a pair of people who are integral in their own ways to this film’s narrative. It is also worth pointing out that even though the character of McCall is not the most original by any stretch of the imagination, the fact that he is constructed as well as he is means he can feel both like a friend and like an enigmatic individual beating the heck out of people to some amazingly well-shot choreography. Indeed on one side of the coin we have Robert, a wonderful guy who cares about others and will try whatever it takes to get someone to do nothing but their very best in life. On the other we have “The Equalizer” who uses those qualities and system of values in order to dispense out a vicious beat down to those who would hurt others and prevent them from living their best life. Indeed the fact that his violent half makes use of the same qualities and value system that is a key part of his day to day life is an intriguing compare/contrast of two different people operating in the same body and makes for one heck of a character dynamic in the process.
To that end, it should be noted that this slice of cinematic pie is one which deals primarily with a pair of relentless forces of nature in the forms of McCall and Teddy that are brought together not by happenstance, but instead because fate deemed it so due to the things that both of them have done in their lives even if one did it with something resembling a soul and who chooses to engage in combat because of his values rather than for ego or any kind of monetary gain whatsoever. Yes both our hero and his hunter strive to make the world better at the price of making it a nightmare for others, but where they don’t see eye to eye is in not only how they define “better” and “nightmare”, but also in whose lives they are trying to improve as well. To that end, we see our unstoppable forces engage in bloody combat and see it all end in a final skirmish that feels like something out of Metal Gear Solid 3, but set in a locale where the hero is given a lot of choice in how he is able to dispatch the army his foe has sent out after him. Yet the best moment between the 2 is not one involving fisticuffs. Rather it is, similar to Michael Mann’s 1995 crime saga Heat, where the two sit down at a restaurant across from each other and where get the exciting chance for all of us in the audience to witness as our intrepid hero without a hint of fear in his body goes verbally toe to toe with a foe that for all intents and purposes is no less than the Devil himself.
All in all it pleases me to let you know dear reader that the 2014 take on The Equalizer is a slice of cinematic pie is engaging in the same iconic manner that a lot of revenge-oriented action films from the 70s and 80s were known for even if this is one that has been brought up to date for the modern movie-goer. Yet I would like to go out on a limb and argue that this slice of cinematic pie is actually more enjoyable than a lot of its compatriots in genre due to how wonderful this film is at developing its characters more than just drawing them in as the typical good or evil archetypes we’ve come to expect. It also doesn’t hurt that the character of Robert McCall, as portrayed by Washington, is one that I feel is (typical for Denzel) one heck of a performance. Indeed Washington manages to do a brilliant job at portraying for us a man who is different from what we may first perceive him to be, but even when he is engaged in bumping off bad guys or dispatching his brand of justice still is able to keep all of his noble and heroic qualities whilst doing so. Put another way: McCall is the best kind of hero in the world around us as even though he is skilled at what he does, he is someone who would sooner help a friend in need by building them rather than just mowing down their foes even if that is something he will set out to doing should the situation call for it. Suffice it to say then that it may have its flaws, but The Equalizer manages to make for another top-notch partnership between Washington and Fuqua that I can promise you will want to sit down and watch time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Equalizer “2014” a solid 3.5 out of 5.