'The Equalizer' review: Denzel Washington kicks ass in violent thriller
Denzel Washington in a scene from "The Equalizer" (Handout)
- Starring: Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz, Marton Csokas, Melissa Leo, Johnny Skourtis, Bill Pullman
- Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
- Written by: Richard Wenk
- Duration: 131 minutes
The Equalizer is a classy horror thriller. Turn it slightly and you could also call it a slick crime story that piles up dead bodies with extreme prejudice while operating with a hardass law-and-order agenda.
This movie is obviously not for the faint-hearted. It is violent and even nasty. The elaborately staged scenes depicting the many gory killings bridge the modern horror and action genres.
But any way you look at it, The Equalizer showcases the electrifying team of director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington. They do not create great films together but they do make highly effective genre movies. They may prove to be heartless, but these films entertain at an intense level.
The first Fuqua-Washington collaboration was Training Day (2001), which propelled Washington to an historic best actor Oscar for his role as the rogue police detective, Alonzo Harris. In the new movie — which will certainly not be their last together — Fuqua directs Washington in a role as a former spy and assassin. The Equalizer is based on the 1980s TV series that starred Edward Woodward. The open ending allows for sequels, which would be a first for Washington.
With Fuqua tapping into something dangerous and mysterious in his star’s psyche, Washington plays Robert McCall, a retired government agent who has tried to disappear into a mundane existence in the Boston area (the TV show was set in New York City but the filmmakers shot their version in Massachusetts).
Our anti-hero is now a “humble” worker toiling away in a building supplies superstore. He is taciturn. He is obsessive-compulsive. He is an insomniac who spends time every night reading in a 24-hour cafe near his working-class apartment. As we come to learn, without much detail, he is haunted by the deeds of his past at the C.I.A. But he shares nothing of this with his limited circle of friends, including the young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz) he mentors in the cafe and the co-worker (Johnny Skourtis) he mentors at the superstore. Otherwise, he is alone with his tortured memories and his highbrow literature.
The movie’s plot — with screenwriter Richard Wenk (The Expendables 2) modernizing the TV series — shows how McCall is re-activated as a rogue agent. But this time, despite utilizing his old spy contacts, he is a freelancer. He is an avenging angel of death ready to defend the weak and kill villains. McCall works outside the law, giving himself the licence to kill.
The Equalizer is wish-fulfillment with the same impact that the Charles Bronson franchise, Death Wish, provided when it launched in 1974. Vigilante justice is compelling, but murky in terms of morality.
Washington’s fascinating performance in The Equalizer makes it palatable, even attractive. Even without the character details we never learn about his McCall character, Washington humanizes him with subtle gestures, voice modulation, or a look in the eyes as he interacts with the stock characters played by Moretz and Skourtis. You find yourself rooting for him as his old spy tricks and astonishing physical abilities kick into play while facing down Russian mobsters, Irish-American thugs and a city full of perversion.
The supporting cast is strong, even if the characters are all types. Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo and Marton Csokas as a cold-blooded contract killer all add value.
In the end, The Equalizer may not be destined for greatness, but it should be a hit movie.