A two-time Oscar winner, Denzel Washington has a resume padded with critically acclaimed biopics (Malcolm X, Cry Freedom, and The Hurricane) and tearjerkers (Philadelphia and Glory). It is sometimes easy to forget that Washington has starred in a fair share of action thrillers. Falling into this category, The Equalizer pays homage to the 1980s television show of the same name, chronicling the misadventures of a former covert operative, who nobly steps out of retirement to aid the helpless and downtrodden.
While a valiant effort, The Equalizer falls short of its source material and other star-studded action flicks of its kind. Washington plays the unassuming, borderline obsessive-compulsive Robert McCall. He is a middle-aged employee at the Home Mart in Boston who spends sleepless nights at the local diner reading literary classics and drinking tea. It is there that he encounters Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young, down-on-her-luck prostitute who frequents the diner in between clients. The two strike up an unlikely and sincere friendship. McCall assumes a paternal role as Teri discusses her hidden dreams of becoming a famous singer and McCall confesses the tragedy of his wife’s untimely death. When Teri’s Russian pimp beats her within an inch of her life, however, McCall’s heroic instincts reemerge, and he takes on her assailants with deadly force.
From there, the plot of the movie picks up, albeit slowly. McCall confronts the Russian foes and attempts to buy Teri’s freedom to no avail, eventually laying waste to all five mobsters within a matter of seconds. In his efforts to avenge Teri, however, he inadvertently starts a war with a Russian crime lord hell-bent on punishing the man responsible for killing his best soldiers, sending his lackey, Teddy (Marton Csokas) to accomplish the deed. Csokas’ effective portrayal of the psychopathic Teddy is chilling: he is willing to strangle deceitful prostitutes and beat a man to death in order to defeat McCall.
With a deft, Sherlock-like perception, as well as the weaponry and combat skills of an ex-government agent, McCall is nearly unstoppable as he dispatches Russian thugs and petty thieves with relative ease. In fact, it’s almost too easy. The filmmakers do little to humanize McCall or lend him any sort of weakness or vulnerability. His adversaries are comedic, one-dimensional caricatures of themselves and hardly pose any semblance of a threat to his highly-calculated means of attack.
In a series of stylistically unique, dramatic—and oftentimes gratuitously violent—fighting scenes, McCall predicts each explosive and each attack down to the very last detail. His character is seemingly invincible, and the audience never worries whether he is going to survive to the end of the film. While relatively entertaining to watch, we never wonder if our hero is in any real mortal peril—resulting in the suspense-less and drawn-out final showdown that unfolds in McCall’s very own Home Mart.
Ultimately, The Equalizer is a B-level action film with a slow-moving, inconsistent plot. Moretz’s talents are squandered—she is only given scenes at the beginning of the film to establish an emotional connection with both Washington and the audience alike. The body toll rises, and by the end of the two hours, we are left wondering what McCall is really fighting for in the first place. The relationship between the unassuming widower and the young call girl is the focal driving point of the movie, yet the audience is only allowed a few scenes of the two before McCall enters into a series of skirmishes, defeating thug after thug without breaking a sweat. It’s definitely fun to cheer on Washington as he turns everyday hardware supplies into weaponry, but the likeability and charm of his character come from his talents, rather than from the strength of the writing.
At 59 years old, Washington plays into the recent movie niche of retired ex-government-agent-turned-vigilante with relative believability—but ultimately, the film does not measure up to what it aspires to be. Predictable, formulaic, and wrought with grisly violence, The Equalizer leaves audiences little with which to work. You’re better off adding Liam Neeson’s Taken to your Netflix queue for the umpteenth time than bothering with this film.
Featured Image Courtesy of Columbia Pictures