Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo
Release Date: September 26th, 2014
Denzel Washington often plays quiet men thrust into life-or-death situations (Unstoppable, thumb John Q.) or loud overconfident men whose personal failings undermine their innate abilities (Training Day, see Flight). He plays a mixture of both characters in his new action drama The Equalizer and to borrow a line from Training Day, this web King Kong ain’t got nothing on his character here.
Robert McCall (Washington), otherwise known as Bob, is a quiet man. He works at a Home Depot-type store and enjoys quietly reading in a local diner. In the diner, he befriends a young local prostitute named Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), whose life has been stolen from her by a Russian pimp who uses Teri at his discretion. If she doesn’t fulfill her duties or if she tries to run away, she knows that she will be beaten up or killed. “I think you can be anything you want to be,” the subdued Bob tells her but Teri knows that isn’t true. She knows that Bob is simply living in an idealistic world but in the real world, she knows that certain men have power while others are powerless to fight.
That’s where the equalizer– aka Bob– comes in.
Like in the television show of the same name, The Equalizer is a man who brings justice to an unjust world. He evens the score between the criminals and gangsters who have all they want and the victimized regular people who have no power to fight against the criminals.
Bob is faced with Russian gangsters, corrupt cops and pimps who are taking advantage of young homeless girls like Teri.
In the hands of lesser actors or a less able director (Antoine Fuqua is the man behind the curtain here), The Equalizer would’ve turned into a simple revenge tale. Washington, though, knows how to play this character. Bob is not a loud or vengeful man. In fact, as the story opens, he enjoys his semi-retired life of working in the hardware store, mentoring a young man who wants to become a security guard and reading books in the diner (he’s trying to get through the list of 100 Books Everyone should read before they Die).
But he loathes injustice which leads out out of complacency and into the underworld. Fuqua, to his credit, never shies away from the violence that the equalizer brings to his victims. Bob is a violent man and in other circumstances, he would be considered a psychopath. (The way he destroys a room of thugs is quite impressive to watch.) But because Bob is avenging the weak, he’s a hero and a man whose violence is justified in the name of “equality.” Late in the picture, Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo are introduced as a married couple– scenes that focus on Bob’s back story and show how he became who he is.
The Equalizer is not a great film by any imagination but it gets the job done, offering Washington a great lead role and Fuqua an opportunity to do what he did so well in movies like Training Day and End of Watch. It’s a thrill to watch bad guys get what they deserve and both Washinton and Fuqua are able to deliver that here. The squemish should steer clear but for those looking for a strong revenge drama, you could do much worse than The Equalizer.
Review by: John Hanlon