"The Equalizer" Reunites Fuqua and Washington for Another Hit

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The Equalizer, starring Denzel Washington and Maton Csokas, directed by Antoine Fuqua

Remember that old 1980s television show, The Equalizer? If you’re much younger than me you may not. It was a solid show but skewed much older demographically than my age at that time. The show featured that other Michael Caine, Edward Woodward. He was old, and he wasn’t taking any crap from anybody, that’s pretty much all I remember. Fast forward 30-odd years to the present and director Antoine Fuqua has recreated the concept with his “Training Day partner Denzel Washington playing an old guy who isn’t taking any crap from anybody. That’s pretty much the gist of it. What you’re wondering is: “Is it any good?”

Let me say right up front, I can’t stand “Training Day.” I know, I know, Washington won the Oscar for playing a bad cop in Fuqua’s highly popular flick. Sure, Denzel Washington was great but then he is Denzel Washington. I’m struggling to come up with a truly bad Denzel movie. Did Denzel deserve the Oscar for that role? No, he deserved the Oscar for Malcolm X, The Hurricane and especially Man on Fire. Any actor worth his salt should be able to play a hero or villain with equal aplomb. In this version of “The Equalizer,” Washington is the good kind of a bad guy, the kind of guy who has the same wallet that Samuel L. Jackson used in “Pulp Fiction.” Washington’s character, Robert McCall, tries hard to be invisible, putting in a steady 40 hours at a fictional Home Depot-type job, playing on the store softball team, appearing to be just a regular Joe. At night he’s a man still struggling with the loss of his wife, eschewing sleep for a nightly round of obsessive compulsive disorder and classic literature at a nearby all-night diner. Another nighttime regular, young call girl Teri (“Kick Ass” Hit Girl Chloë Grace Moretz, looking much more grown up), strikes up a casual friendship with the enigmatic gentleman McCall, until her Russian gangster pimp beats her so bad she ends up in Intensive Care.  What’s an older guy with a “Bad Mother F*****” wallet to do? Of course he can’t turn a blind eye, so he goes to war with the entire Russian mob in Boston.

Antoine Fuqua has finally put together a film I actually really enjoyed, after disappointing with everything else he’s done since 1998’s “The Replacement Killers,” and especially with “Training Day.” The plot is rather threadbare, to be honest. McCall doesn’t express any real concern with this young lady being a street walker, but he’ll go to war if anyone lays a hand on her? The premise is flimsy at best, but it sets off the tightly choreographed moments of intense violence that carries McCall to an unlikely final act. I couldn’t help but smile despite the rather absurd ending. I’m a sucker for throwback revenge films. I love Liam Neeson for his, and Denzel likewise delights. He also has a pretty good foil, Russian mafia fixer Teddy, played by Aotearoan actor Marton Csokas. He’s been in lots of shows and films over the years, from Xena: Warrior Princess to “Æon Flux” to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him so ruthlessly evil. His casual disregard for life contrasted nicely with Denzel Washington’s shining knight persona. The two engage in a nice, slow burn battle of wits before getting extreme in the non-Home Depot. After watching “The Equalizer” I may never shop at a Home Depot or Lowes again. Fuqua captures it all quite nicely, though he seemed to fall in love with the Zack Snyder slow-mo every now and then. I liked the pacing overall but the slow motion drags things out a beat or two more than I’d prefer at times. Generation Text will probably find it slow, but Fuqua actually spends a little time developing a few of the minor characters just enough that you actually care when they’re placed in harm’s way to draw McCall out.    

 To finally answer your question, yes, “The Equalizer” is pretty good. You knew it would be. It’s Denzel being a cool son of a gun, taking on impossible odds. Chloë Grace Moretz was impressive for the little bit she’s in it. Marton Csokas was outstanding as the cold, efficient killing machine. The plot is stretched as thin as it can get, but it makes for a taunt action vehicle for an aging but still very bankable superstar. It’s not a thinker like “Flight” but it’s a good popcorn romp, well-acted and pretty solidly crafted.  I had fun and the shortcomings weren’t that egregious. I dare say I liked it more than “Training Day,” but for me that isn’t much of a stretch. The biggest stretch for me is the title. They could have called this anything, really. Calling it “The Equalizer” might attract a generation or two before mine who remember the old show, but younger generations may have to search IMDB.com to find out what the film’s title even refers to. Heck, Washington may be more MacGyver than Equalizer at times. It seems a bit tacked on by the studio to me, looking to capitalize on the franchise name as if Denzel’s name wasn’t enough. At least they didn’t tack on some 3D effects too.   

4.0 / 5.0