Movie review: Denzel Washington stars in '80s TV show revamp The Equalizer | Arts

Movie review: Denzel Washington stars in '80s TV show revamp The Equalizer


Denzel Washington in The Equalizer - PHOTO COURTESY OF COLUMBIA PICTURES
  • photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures
  • Denzel Washington in The Equalizer
The Equalizer
★★★ ½
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A film like The Equalizer would be easy to brush off as a cynical cash-grab for all involved. Star Denzel Washington surely must have seen how financially successful the Taken franchise has become for Liam Neeson, right? Director Antoine Fuqua realizes his most celebrated film, both critically and at the box office, was the Denzel-starring Training Day, so of course he would want to get involved in a potential action series starring one of the last true movie stars working today.

But a funny thing happened on the way to making a crowd-pleasing piece of trifle; something clicks behind the scenes, and what we are given isn’t just a brainless vigilante flick, but an enjoyable action film with heart. The Equalizer isn’t the best film I’ve seen this year, but it is one of the most fun.

Washington stars as Robert McCall, a Boston widower who spends his days working at a Home Depot-esque home improvements store, and his sleepless nights reading classic literature and sipping tea at the all-night diner around the corner from his empty apartment. It’s there that he strikes up a friendship of sorts with Teri, an underage Russian prostitute played masterfully by Chloe Grace Moretz. When Teri is brutalized by her Russian mob-connected pimp, McCall dusts off the talents he honed in his mysterious past to exact revenge.

A film like this is troublesome to praise too much; it is easy to see that the same aspects that I found refreshing will likely send some viewers eyes rolling into the back of their heads. That said, I was a sucker for the little bits of background that we are given about McCall’s life. A scene with Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman as long-time friends and colleagues informs us that whatever McCall used to do, and promised his wife that he would never do again, was so consuming that it required a faked death and funeral to walk away from. And the filmmakers don’t just show the protagonist reading The Old Man and the Sea and hope that we pick up on the subtext; no, they use Moretz’s character as an audience surrogate in order to give us the Cliff’s Notes version of the classic tale.

Still, there are some areas of the film that could have been handled a little more subtly. When McCall uses his killing expertise to take out multiple rooms of trained killers, the filmmakers seem to view the movie as their opportunity to film an '80s-style slasher flick; there is more blood, and close-ups of lingering slow deaths, than a 24-hour grindhouse film festival. I also realize that Moretz’s character is here to set the action in motion and then disappear for the majority of the film, but considering that this is the best that she has been in a movie in a long time, couldn’t they have thrown in a phone call between the two characters occasionally just to get her on screen?

The Equalizer is a film with built-in audience appeal, and I’m sure the studio realized that when they greenlit it; it’s an action movie based on an '80s television procedural, so no one involved likely expected Oscar nominations, I’m sure. But if you can look past its low-rent origins, you will find a rollicking Rambo for the 21st century that will have you grinning throughout its two-plus hours.

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