Denzel Washington stars as the (not-so)-reluctant ‘anti-hero’ of The Equalizer. Robert McCall, a retired black ops agent who has faked his own death in order to pursue a ‘normal life’ following the passing of his wife, wouldn’t you guess it, struggles to adhere to this George Bailey savings-and-loan existence – Washington’s Frank Capra-esque interactions with adoring co-workers are cringeworthy at the very least. As he obsessively stop-watches the mundanity of his new life it’s no time before McCall dives headfirst into swathes of Russian mobsters, bar fights and explosions in this ultra-violent remake of a 1985 TV series of the same name.
Much in the ilk of De Niro’s Taxi Driver (1976) McCall seeks out the company of a (pre)adolescent and troubled prostitute, Teri (played by Chloë Grace Moretz of Kick Ass (2010) and Carrie (2013)) to rescue her from the abuse of a violent gang of Russian pimps as well as relieving himself of his self-imposed retirement.
McCall steps into the pimps’ restaurant and executes them in a partially slo-mo fight sequence, which for some will elicit a Déjà vu of Book of Eli, and where the weapons are almost exclusively pieces of bar equipment. The effects are actually pretty good and the violence isn’t overly gratuitous…at this point in the movie. The brutal execution is investigated by scary, tattooed Teddy, played by the not-Kevin-Spacey lookalike Marton Csokas (pictured below), who has been sent over from Russia to exact vengeance. Of course.
After a bit of a ‘whodunit’ for good measure, the film ultimately ends in a tumult of splinters and nails as the stand-off between Robert and Teddy takes place in the hardware store where Robert works. In this bloated fight sequence it wouldn’t be surprising to find that the filmmakers had a bet on how many pieces of DIY equipment could be used to brutally mutilate and torture the ‘bad guys’. After all, a movie where a shot glass, a corkscrew and a nail gun are all used to end Russians is bound to be a sure fire box office hit in the US (and it already is after its first week).
Ultimately, contrary to its level of violence, the film is disappointingly sanitized as Washington represents the perfect vigilante hero: no mania, only morality.
Where Travis Bickle’s mentally unstable Vietnam war-vet-come-taxi-driver misguidedly wanted to clean the streets of decadence, Washington’s McCall is the outright good-guy-with-a-gun (or without one) equalizing the amorality of the caricatured bad guys.
Although Csokas’ performance is chilling and will leave you excited to see him in his next role, Washington’s squeaky-clean hero in The Equalizer further cements him as the favourite uncle of action movies: more fun than your own parents but ultimately going to get you to eat your greens.
There is no internal struggle for the audience. We aren’t left agreeing with his actions but questioning his motive. McCall is not the troubled anti-hero at all, he’s just a regular good guy police officer without the badge. For this reason the film lacks the depth of the likes of Training Day (2001) The Equalizer director Antoine Fuqua’s and Denzel’s last successful collaboration. When your heroes are spoon-fed to you all you’re left with is the husk of an action movie, where a challenging thriller could have resided.
Images are not my own.
Header image URL here.
Marton Csokas image URL here.
De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver image URL here.