Release date: Sept. 26, 2014
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Richard Wenk
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace-Moretz, Martin Csokas, and Melissa Leo
You may or may not remember “The Equalizer” as a TV series in the 80s. Don’t worry, it’s not required viewing to follow or enjoy the hyper-violent and entertaining theatrical remake that reunites Denzel Washington with the director that helped him to snag his first Academy Award for Best Actor, Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”).
Denzel plays Robert McCall. At first, “Bob”, the name he goes by at his humble job at Home Depot, seems like a pretty normal guy. When he’s not working, he spends time at the local diner, drinking coffee and reading books, most of which are thematically similar to Robert’s former life and the life he is about to embark on. What is that life? Good question. We never really learn for sure. We know it involved government work, that he worked in secret, he was very good at it, and that it ended badly. He’s basically like a superhero without the cape and mask.
Robert’s quiet life comes to a crashing halt when he finds out a teen prostitute, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, has been roughed up and hospitalized by her Russian gangster pimp bosses. This is a girl that Robert has come to enjoy talking to during their brief encounters, so after seeing her in the ICU, decides he has to be the one to put and end to these Russian baddies. Otherwise, who is going to stand up for girls like this who can’t stand up for themselves. His rampage gets the attention of the higher up Russian bad guy gangsters and he finds himself marked for death. But Robert isn’t going out without a fight and/or taking out all these bad guys with him.
This is a movie that could have been made a hundred times in the last thirty years with either Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme or more recently, someone like Liam Neeson in the starring role. This flick earns its R rating with over the top bone crushing violence. It never feels all that fresh or original, but it manages to be engaging and entertaining nonetheless. The bad guys are over the top and about as cliche as you can get. You’ll know the main baddie, Teddy (Martin Csokas) when you see him. He says very little. He’s covered in scary tattoos. And he beats the hell out of anyone who gets in his way of finding Robert. He comes off a little too over the top at times, but it works.
Thankfully, the cast, mainly Washington and Grace-Moretz, make what feels like a very familiar premise very watchable. One could probably argue there isn’t enough of Grace-Moretz in the picture, but Fuqua and company also avoid the trappings of using her solely as a damsel in distress. This is a good thing, because it means more Denzel. At first, you might wonder why Denzel, at his age is still trying to play these types of characters. But keep in mind the TV series from which this is based, also featured an older actor (Edward Woodward) in the titular role. And honestly, Denzel is perfect. He’s calm, he’s cool, and he’s brutal. Sometimes you see the agony the violence causes him. Other times it seems like he enjoys crushing bad guy skulls.
It may be a little silly and over the top at times — there are plenty of slo-mo action sequences, slo-mo walks in the rain, and slo-mo walking away from explosions. But hey — it’s Denzel. He can almost literally make anything worth watching. And while some audience members may have a hard time with the film’s violence, Denzel makes this an enjoyable watch.