Director Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer, based on the 1980s CBS television series, examines the sensitive psyche of a man long since removed from his violent profession. Denzel Washington portrays Robert McCall. His apartment provides space for the bare essentials. His routine is to wake up every day, take the bus to work, and head to the local diner after work to read from a book. He then goes to home to the sleepless night that always awaits him. What tragedies befell?
Okay. Let’s ditch the romantic notions of deep storytelling. The Equalizer is just Denzel Washington’s chance at launching his first film franchise, a la Liam Neeson’s soon-to-be-concluded Taken series. It’s an action movie that centers on a man with a mysterious past and the “very particular set of skills” men of his kind always seem to have. While said skills may be dormant for years, they never really leave. For a man like McCall, picking up these old habits is akin to you or I riding a bike after not doing so for a lengthy period of time. It’s a total C movie, but to Fuqua’s credit, it doesn’t try to be anything other than that.
We are introduced to McCall leading a simple life with the aforementioned quirks that appear to be the effects of one with OCD, but that isn’t the case. It’s the routine that keeps him focused on his normal life, one in which he finds time to aid a fellow hardware employee in his quest to become a security guard, and one where he can be a shoulder to cry on for a young prostitute named Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz).
Inevitably, something happens to Teri that forces McCall to pick up the life he abandoned years earlier. McCall’s strong suit is his highly acute awareness of his surroundings, and one can’t help but call to mind the BBC’s latest iteration of Sherlock (right down to the extreme close-ups during McCall’s POV observations). However, instead of deducing who someone is and where they’ve been like Holmes does, McCall is able to detect who someone is and what their next move is. His confidence in his own abilities isn’t exactly humble: several times throughout the movie he challenges himself by guessing how long it will take to put down his opponents, stopwatch and all.
It’s a neat trick during the first action sequence, but despite Washington’s perpetual badassery, the idea grows tiresome. The film peaks during this sequence, with everything that follows serving as a reminder at how awesome the initial action was in comparison. Soon, events which call for violent resolutions seem to pile up in rapid succession, even though they don’t have anything to do with the major plot. As for the “plot,” a Russian mob enforcer (Kingdom of Heaven baddie Marton Csokas) is dispatched to the states to find out who killed members of his association, and more importantly, why.
Fuqua reteams with Washington for the first time since the latter won Best Actor for his role in Training Day, and while Washington’s career has moved merrily along, the same can’t be said for his director (Tears of the Sun, King Arthur, Shooter, etc.). Fuqua’s eye for action seems to have gone foggy over the years. While it appears as though Washington is involved in most, if not all, of the fight sequences, it’s hard to say. Much of the hand-to-hand combat suffers from quick cuts in darkened settings, and when two bald men are fighting in such an environment, it can be difficult to make out who’s winning and who’s dying. Fuqua also falls prey to the familiar action motif “Man Walks in Slow Motion While Carrying a Weapon as Water Falls Upon His Head,” as well as not deciding how he wants his movie to end (there are three endings in the last six minutes of the film).
The Equalizer features a committed and very likable Washington, and watching him one-up his opponents at every turn is fun for the most part. Sadly, some poor directing choices and a runtime of 131 minutes don’t do Washington or the film any favors. It’s ultimately a MOR movie, but if it finds an audience, it both sets itself up nicely for a sequel and pays homage to the series on which it’s based. The Equalizer 2: Equalize Harder, anyone?