The Equalizer is a 2014 action film starring Denzel Washington. It’s an adaptation/remake of the 80s TV show of the same name.
When the film opens we meet Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), a gentle man working at Home Mart, a Home Depot lookalike. He has a very firm routine: go to work, where he imparts wisdom and helps his overweight co-worker get in shape for the exam to become a guard and keep his younger coworkers guessing on what he did before working there; go home, cleanup and read; and then go to a late night diner to have tea and keep on reading. There he talks to a Russian girl named Teri/Elina (Chloe Moretz) almost every night.
Things are bad in Alina’s life, forced to work as a prostitute for the Russian mafia. When her pimp leaves her in the hospital beaten to the very inch of her life, McCall goes straight to the Russians to try to buy her freedom. When they refuse, he kills them all, and from then on starts imparting street justice every time he feels it’s needed, including corrupt cops extorting money out of his co-worker’s mother’s restaurant. But things get bad when the Russian Crime Lord the pimp reported to sends his best fixer, Teddy (Marton Csokas) to Boston to find the people responsible for the killing.
This is a modern 80s action film and extremely fun. It has all the fun tropes you expect, from slo-mo in the rain to Denzel walking calmly away from an explosion (and not looking back because Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions). It’s brutally violent but never crosses into gory, with plenty of blood and bone cracks but never any guts spilling, though some of the latter kills get dangerously close. McCall might be retired from whatever it is he did before Home Mart but that doesn’t mean he’s lost any of his ass-kicking abilities. Teddy himself is an outstanding villain, even more brutal that Denzel and just as smart.
But to be honest, what makes this a fantastic film aren’t the straightforward plot with a literal social justice warrior or the over the top action, but the strong performances you usually don’t expect to see in this genre. When we came out of the cinema, my brother in law commented that it reminded him a bit of Man on Fire, another outstanding Denzel action film.
His performance of Robert McCall is strong and grounded, a man with a slight case of OCD, keeping a tight schedule for all his actions, going so far as using a stopwatch to measure everything he does. He’s a widower and after his wife’s death, he picked up her hobby, constantly reading books with the goal of reaching one-hundred. He’s caring to a fault, often offering advice and trying to get people to be healthier. In fact, it’s this part of him that sets things in motion and even the scenes where he’s fighting with himself, deciding on whether to cross the line and go back to whatever it is he did before (which is never explicitly stated), are very strong and help to further ground the character, to make him more human.
As I mentioned, Marton Csokas’ Teddy is just a brutal as Denzel’s character when it comes to administering punishment, but where Robert is a caring man that just wants to help and see people do the right thing, he’s a fixer, his only purpose to keep things working smoothly for Pushkin, his boss in Russia.
Even if she’s only in the movie for a short while, Cloetz’s performance is one of the strongest and she gets you to care about her character, which is central because that’s what sparks it all and it’s the plot thread everything hangs on. You instantly guess she’s a haunted girl and she’s in trouble, so when something happens to her, you, as the audience, are right behind Denzel hoping he kicks some ass.
The combat scenes are very well made and they’re extremely fast, a flurry of punches, kicks and assault with various improvised weapons and even if the violence gets a bit over the top, it remains believable. Best of all, beyond the combat prowess, they acknowledge that Denzel’s not as young as he used to be, and it’s reflected in the fact McCall rarely runs. There are no acrobatic shootouts or the long sprints we’ve come to expect from action films, but burst of controlled violence, which in itself is what Denzel’s character is, a very controlled man capable of outstanding levels of violence.
The only downside for me is that Denzel’s character is such an unstoppable fighting machine that there’s no tension as it becomes extremely clear very early on that no one is a match for him, not even the main villains. Bad guys drop like flies and Denzel comes out barely hurt. A few more scrapes, bruises and maybe even a concussion would’ve gone a long way to keep the tension going. There is such a thing as being too much of a badass, and this film crosses that line.
The Equalizer does its best to keep things realistic though it does go very over the top midway through, but when it happens you don’t even question it, because it’s successfully pulled you in for the ride and that is a very big accomplishment. The writing and dialogues are solid, avoiding lengthy conversations and keeping things nice and short, and in this case less is more and it worked perfectly. While there are some issues, and you will call shenanigans on some developments, the plot works pretty well and the issues you’ll most likely forget as just another action film trope.
The music is your typical arrangement of mysterious music for the stealthy parts and beats for action, though you won’t really remember any of it. What you will remember however are all the beatdown sound effects and they’re just a pleasure to hear, as you’ll be whooping with every crack and smack. My favourite part of the music though is its relative absence when it comes to the last battle, as the movie focuses more on sound effects than melodies, which makes the theme song much stronger and effective when it kicks in during the climax.
By the end, the film sets up for the inevitable sequel, as McCall can’t walk away from his new calling, posting ads as a freelance ‘helper’.
The best part of the movie for me though, is they didn’t force the name The Equalizer into the script. There isn’t an awkward dialogue where they say that name and for that I’m grateful (I remember groaning at the forced line in Guardians of the Galaxy when they had to bring the name into the film).
The Mental Attic Score: Worth Watching. If you liked Man on Fire, you’ll love this film as well, and if you didn’t like that one, then we need to find you help.