Action Adaptation

Revenge of the Blu-ray Review: The Equalizer

January 1, 2015Ben MK

Vengeance is his...

How do you go about reinventing an iconic television character? You cast an iconic movie star in the role, of course. At least, that's the approach taken by the producers of The Equalizer, the big screen adaptation of the 1980s TV show that starred veteran British actor Edward Woodward. In it, Denzel Washington re-teams with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua to take on what may be his most badass role yet, playing a former government operative who uses his lethal skills to vanquish criminals, all in the name of defending the innocent and the helpless.


The Film When we first meet him, Robert McCall (Washington) is just trying to live the quiet life as an average Bostonian. To keep himself occupied — and to 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 nearly all of the "100 books everyone should read" (in an attempt to finish a project started by his late wife). On most nights, you'll find him at the Bridge Diner, relaxing with a good book and a cup of tea; and it's there that he befriends another regular patron, a young girl named Alina (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz).

In some ways, Alina's just your average teenager, but in other ways, she's anything but. For though she has aspirations to be a singer, the odds of her realizing those dreams are slim, as she's in deep with unsavory Russian mobsters who have forced her into a life of prostitution. But despite being from two different worlds, she and McCall strike up a friendship, and he starts to feel like her protector — which is why he's compelled to avenge her when she's savagely beaten, even if that means going up against an army of brutish Russian gangsters who take their orders from a ruthless oligarch named Vladimir Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich).

Afterwards, however, McCall 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. And what ensues is as violent and gory as anything ever produced by Quentin Tarantino or Eli Roth, with McCall pummeling his opponents to a bloody pulp, shooting them with their own guns, ensnaring them with barbed wire nooses, blowing them to bits and impaling 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. The problem is that we see far too much evidence of McCall's gruesome efficacy to find that claim credible, even for a second, as every bad guy he encounters meets their grisly end within the blink of an eye.

Aside from the violence, there's precious little else to The Equalizer. Fuqua dresses up Expendables 2 screenwriter Richard Wenk's razor-thin plot with stylistic flourishes that call to mind Tony Scott's signature visuals, 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. For 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. It's these little touches that remind us McCall is still a human being, and not just an unstoppable killing machine. Strip them away and you might as well just call him The Terminator.

Audio/Visual Fidelity The Equalizer debuts on Blu-ray with quite the killer A/V presentation, though results on the whole fall just shy of perfection. As expected, picture quality is razor sharp and full of fine detail, with healthy contrast and hue saturation levels throughout. The darker tones favored by cinematographer Mauro Fiore's stylized color palette — which lead to many scenes shrouded in partial darkness — are generally represented well, thanks to deep, inky blacks. However, the image can appear overwhelmingly dark at times, resulting in an absence of shadow detail. Otherwise, colors — most notably orange — pop nicely, especially in bright daylight scenes, and there are no indications of any image defects whatsoever. On the audio front, the disc's lethally proficient DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack renders the film's soundstage — from the English and Russian dialogue to body blows, gunfire and explosions, not to mention composer Harry Gregson-Williams alt-rock score — extremely effectively, with ample LFE to bolster the gory action.

Special Features Sony's region-free Blu-ray release touts a modest supplemental package, including an UltraViolet digital copy and an hour's worth of HD special features. Kicking things off is Vengeance Mode, which "delivers scene specific behind the scenes video throughout the movie" via brief branching segments (titled "Robert McCall", "Chloe Grace Moretz as Alina", "The Russian Restaurant", "The Alley", "The Home Mart Robbery", "The Diner", "Marton Csokas as Teddy" and "The Home Mart Final Battle"), adding 23 minutes to the film's running time.

A quintet of behind-the-scenes featurettes follows: Inside the Equalizer is an 8-minute look at adapting the television show for the big screen, in which the filmmakers and actors discuss the movie's concept, the character of McCall and his relationship with Alina; Denzel Washington: A Different Kind of Superhero is a 7-minute piece that focuses on the actor, his enthusiasm for the role and the nuances he brings to his character; Equalizer Vision: Antoine Fuqua turns the tables on director Antoine Fuqua, spending 7 minutes discussing his relationship with the actors and his contributions to the film; the 5-minute Children of the Night is all about Chloƫ Grace Moretz, her character and the real-life plight of girls forced into prostitution; and One Man Army: Training and Fighting is a 7 minute look at the movie's fight choreography and stunt work.

Finally, the special features are rounded off with a 2-minute tongue-in-cheek ad for Home Mart, entitled Home Mart: Taking Care of Business One Bolt at a Time and a Photo Gallery that contains 52 production stills from the film. Note that all special features, with the exception of Children of the Night and Home Mart: Taking Care of Business One Bolt at a Time, are exclusive to this Blu-ray release.

The Bottom Line Don't go looking for too much emotional or narrative complexity in The Equalizer. At its bullet-riddled core, what it all boils down to is a good old-fashioned revenge tale, plain and simple. Just think of it as Quentin Tarantino meets Tony Scott: Its stylized and bloody violence is sure to please action movie lovers, while audio/videophiles will be thrilled with Sony's Blu-ray release, which delivers excellent audio and video, plus a worthwhile supplemental package to boot. Recommended for action fans or for fans of Denzel Washington in general.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on September 26th, 2014.

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