The Equalizer – Film Review

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas and Chloë Grace Moretz

Release Date: Sep 26

Even though you’re expecting it for the entirety of this film, Denzel Washington never turns to the camera and says “You’ve been Equalized!”
Not once! And he has plenty of opportunities to do so. By the final act, tension is genuinely pretty high as you wait for this glorious sentence to be uttered but alas….nothing.
When you find yourself waiting for this to happen, it is a sign of two things:
1) Tension from the actual plot of the film is fairly non-existent.
2) But you’re still having a hell of a good time.

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Based on the TV series of the same name, The Equalizer features Denzel Washington as Bob, the all-American good guy: He doesn’t drink or smoke, he reads classical literature, doesn’t sleep around with loose women and he always has time to help his fellow man. And in case the message isn’t strong enough for you, he also works in a home depot, a globalized model of carpentry. Yes, Bob is very much a modern day messiah.

Only with a PhD in ass-kickery.

Whereas Bob spends the first half of the film laying low and being an all around nice guy, he is also a big believer in justice. And when justice is not served, he believes in applying it himself, vigilante style.
Is there another parallel rearing it’s pointy-eared head here?
It isn’t until he befriends a streetwalker named Elena, played by the disturbingly young Chloe Grace Moretz, that he begins to feel the burning desire to become THE LAW.
This soon spirals out of control when, thinking he is wasting some hot-blooded pimps, he ends up…wait for it… waging war on the Russian mafia.

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So…a couple of things with that:

First off, just to get it out of the way, it is never not unsettling to see Chloe Grace Moretz in any sort of adult role. This works in her favour for the horror remakes she has starred in, such as Let Me In and Carrie. Here, there is a suggestion of forbidden or monstrous sexuality, a strong theme in horror.
In a crime thriller or action film though, it is mostly just unpleasant.
The argument could be made that Jodie Foster and Natalie Portman were put in this same role in Taxi Driver and Leon respectively, and that it explores the tricky territory around fatherly and intimate love. So if you knock this film, you are knocking those as well. But let it be noted that those films were intelligent and contemplative pieces of work.
The Equalizer, while good fun, is not.

It doesn’t have the right to be much fun either, because the story itself is bland and uninspired. Bob’s reasoning for becoming a crime-fighter is extremely fuzzy. How he comes to be as skilled and quietly reserved as he is is never fully explained. When he is being tracked by the naughty Russians, the police seem to just stop caring about all the crime that is happening around them. And many of the kills, while stylish and lots of fun, are still weirdly impractical.
In the final act, in a sequence that can only be described as Home (depot) Alone, he goes to great lengths to kill Russian henchman in brutally original ways, when there are perfectly functioning sledgehammers and axes everywhere. It’s so unnecessary and yet…you’ll be thankful for it.
When Denzel Washington walks away from an explosion in slow motion, you’ll watch and be grateful that he isn’t coming to equalize you next!

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It’s a testament to the inherent likability of Washington that so many of the films’ flaws are easy to overlook. He is onscreen for 80% of the film at least, a constant reminder of why you bought the cinema ticket in the first place. Charming, inviting but never insistent, and quietly funny, he makes this over-cooked hero’s journey a fun new experience.

There is a big focus on how he deconstructs a situation practically before going in, guns blazing. A lot of the time we’ll see the preparation for his fight for justice, but skip the fights themselves. This is a good thing too because the fight choreography is fairly poor for an action film. It’s all fast cuts and relatively tame violence. He also does that Robert Downey Jr./Sherlock Holmes thing where he slows down time to analyze the elements of the situation before he acts. Again, it’s a clichè but somewhat excusable.

In what feels like a lucky break, The Equalizer is also blessed by a similarly interesting villain. Marton Csokas brings a surprising level of intrigue to Teddy the Fixer. What could have easily been a one note character, all shouting, threats and guns, is instead a quietly ominous figure who is subdued just enough to feel like a dangerous threat. This isn’t Pacino and De Niro by any stretch, but for the purposes of this film, Teddy is Bob’s conflicting equal, pun absolutely intended.

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In the end, this is an average popcorn film. Plenty of problems but with a blanket of likability that covers most of them.
Washington and Csokas are electric onscreen, working magic with a lousy script and bringing gravitas to characters that don’t really deserve it.
If it’s a fun evening you’re after, you could do a lot worse.

Score: 3/5
Written by Stephen Hill

 

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