In Denzel Washington’s words, “Loosely based on the TV series [starring Edward Woodward, which ran from 1985 – ‘89],” The Equalizer sees retired military man Robert McCall coming to the aid of those in trouble. Day-to-day, McCall is calm, restrained, working at a DIY store and spending his evenings reading classic literature. When a prostitute is beaten up and hospitalised, McCall exacts bloody revenge on her pimp and his goons, unaware that he has started a war with the Russian mafia.
There’s nothing remotely new about The Equalizer, directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen), but it is two hours of stylishly shot violence that asks its audience not to think too much about its hero’s morals.
Robert McCall is an easy role for Washington to play. If you’ve seen Man on Fire or The Book of Eli, you’ll know Washington does an impressive job when he needs to be moody and intense. Washington does the same again here, flicking in a split second between every day, charismatic blue-collar worker to a cold, hard staring killing machine. Chloë Grace Moretz is the prostitute who wants to turn her life around, Moretz impressively managing to take a clichéd role and put some personality up there on the screen. Richard Wenk has written a number of thoughtful, sincere conversations between Washington and Moretz, where we are given hints about their pasts, both of them trying to create new identities for themselves. Marton Csokas is the film’s villain, the Russian mafia’s “fixer”, Teddy. Virtually every scene featuring Csokas is uncomfortably tense; even when he’s calm, you’re waiting for him to do something savagely violent. While Wenk’s script never takes the time to explain how Teddy became this sadistic sociopath, Csokas easily stands out amongst the hundreds of carbon copy action film bad guys.
Antoine Fuqua is a gifted director when it comes to filming action, with scenes shot at a smooth, constant pace instead of feverish editing where we cut to several angles over the space of a few seconds. For the most part, Fuqua cuts away from the violence, instead preferring sticky sound effects that feel just as wince-inducing. The only exception is a scene early on when Washington kills a group of mobsters using a paper weight, their own guns, and a corkscrew. It’s as if Fuqua is trying to push the 15 certificate rating as far as it will go. It’s an impressively choreographed scene, the first time you see Washington in action and is a statement of intent from both director and star: this is not a dumbed down 12A action film.
For me, it wasn’t the violence that was hard to stomach, but the occasional slow motion shots where we get to see what’s going on inside McCall’s head. The camera zooms in on his eyeball, before showing us the room he’s in (now in soft focus and garishly lit) and the people he needs to kill in slow motion. These shots felt flamboyant and unnecessary, a poor man’s version of the stop motion shots in Steven Moffat’s Sherlock when we’re shown how Holmes’ mind works.
The Equalizer is only going to appeal to Chuck Norris and Jason Statham fans, audiences who want to see henchmen beaten up and killed in imaginative ways. Fuqua doesn’t try and reinvent the revenge thriller sub-genre, but you have to give him praise for giving us a film that harks back to the ridiculously violent actioners of the eighties, rather than the toned down, neutered thrillers that arrive at cinemas every summer (White House Down, A Good Day To Die Hard, et al).
3 out of 5