Action Crime

An Eye for an Eye, a Film Review for a Film Review: The Equalizer

September 26, 2014Ben MK

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Killing in the name of...

Hollywood remakes of old television shows usually go the comedic route, with movies like 21 Jump Street, The Green Hornet and Charlie's Angels putting a humorous spin on more or less serious primetime fare. Not so with The Equalizer, however. Director Antoine Fuqua's violent and gritty reimagining of the 1980s TV series — starring Denzel Washington in the role made famous by veteran actor Edward Woodward — is dead serious when it comes to its portrayal of a man out to right the wrongs perpetrated against the innocent. But do Fuqua and Washington succeed, or are the odds against them?


Washington is Robert McCall, a man with a shadowy — and extremely lethal — past as a government operative, but who's now just trying to live the peaceful life of your typical retired Bostonian. To keep himself occupied (and perhaps stay under the radar), he's got a job at the local Home Mart, where he also mentors a fellow employee, and he's become an avid reader, making his way through 90-something of the "100 books everyone should read" (in an attempt to finish what his late wife started). On most nights, he'll make his way down to the Bridge Diner, to relax with a good book and a cup of tea, and it's there that he befriends another regular patron, a young girl named Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz).

In some ways, Teri's just your average teenager, but in other ways, she's anything but. For starters, her real name is Alina. She has aspirations to be a singer, but the odds of her realizing those dreams are slim to none, as she's in deep with some unsavory Russian mobsters, who force her to turn tricks for them. Despite being from two different worlds, she and McCall strike up a certain kinship, and he starts to feel like her protector — which is why when she's savagely beaten, he's compelled to become the man he once was and avenge her.

Doing so, however, means going up against an army of brutish Russian gangsters who operate at the behest of a ruthless oligarch named Vladimir Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich) — although that doesn't seem to phase McCall in the slightest. He has no trouble slipping back into trained killer mode and laying waste to the thugs responsible for putting Teri in the hospital. But afterwards, he finds himself being targeted for retribution by "psychopath with a business card" Teddy (Marton Csokas), an enforcer dispatched by Pushkin to tie up loose ends.

What ensues is as violently blood-soaked and gory as anything ever produced by Quentin Tarantino or Eli Roth, and Fuqua keeps the carnage coming with all the momentum of an express elevator to Hell, reveling in it right up until the film's penultimate moments. McCall pummels his opponents to a pulp, shoots them with their own guns, ensnares them with barbwire nooses, blows them to pieces and impales them with all manner of sharp objects (including corkscrews, shards of broken glass and power tools) — all in the build-up to his inevitable showdown with Teddy.

Of course, Teddy is intended as a worthy opponent — and something of a reflection — for McCall, a sneering villain whose own cold-blooded single-mindedness is meant to give us cause to believe that the odds don't necessarily fall in our protagonist's favor. But we see far too much evidence of McCall's gruesome efficacy to find that claim credible, even for a second. Every bad guy he encounters meets their grisly end within the blink of an eye (and if you doubt that, McCall always keeps a stopwatch handy, for measuring his prowess).

Other than the violence, however, there's precious little else to The Equalizer. Fuqua dresses up the razor-thin plot by screenwriter Richard Wenk (who also co-scripted The Expendables 2) with stylistic flourishes that call to mind the signature visuals of Tony Scott, but it does little to hide the fact that the majority of the film is just biding time until the climactic confrontation.

Still, Washington does his best to bring some much-needed depth to his characterization. And when McCall's not exercising his firm belief in his A-B-K's (always be killing), he's either trying to motivate his friends to be the best versions of themselves they can be, indulging his obsessive-compulsive tendencies or grappling with the morality of his violent actions (though it's less about feeling remorse for committing murder and more about feeling guilty for breaking the promise he made to his dead wife not to be "that guy" again). It's all immaterial, though, because these little touches exist only to remind us that he's a human being, not just an unstoppable killing machine. Strip them away and you might as well just call him The Terminator.

The Bottom Line Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington's second big screen collaboration professes to be about vigilante justice, but at its bullet-riddled core it's really just a good old-fashioned revenge tale, plain and simple. Call it Quentin Tarantino by way of Tony Scott — stylish and gory, it's certainly Washington's most violent, if not his most uncharacteristically vicious, role. And if you adjust your expectations accordingly, you'll certainly have a bloody good time. But if you try peeling back the layers to seek deeper meaning within it, you may discover there's no justice to be found.  Ben Mk

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