sometimes easy to forget that Denzel Washington’s resume is as full of
action thrillers as it is stocked with weighty dramas that cry out for
awards. But “The Equalizer” is a high-impact
reminder. Yes, it is part “Man on Fire,” part “Taxi Driver” and outright
based on the ‘80s TV series of the same name that starred Edward
Woodward as a former covert operative turned guardian angel for helpless
If "The Equalizer"
lacks gravitas, it is fairly sturdy as far as pure entertainment goes—and the actor takes his stealth vigilante as seriously as he does his
Oscar-nominated performances in "Flight" or "Malcolm X," pulling out that
patented charm as well as considerable deadly force. Unlike many of
those AARP card-carriers in "The Expendables," Denzel, at the ripe age of
59, is still dependable as a man who gets the job done when the meanies
run amok, and who still draws a crowd at theaters when he does so.
is especially noteworthy since it pairs Washington again with Antoine
Fuqua, the director behind his Oscar-winning role in 2001’s “Training
Day.” But don’t expect any “King Kong ain't got shit on me” histrionics
in this caper. Washington’s Robert McCall exudes a serene calm while
living a low-profile Spartan-like solo existence as a clerk at a Boston
area Home Depot-like emporium.
his co-workers treat him with respect and count on him for advice, they
also wonder about his past. He jokes with a couple young guys that he
used to be a Pip—meaning one of Gladys Knight’s backup singer/dancers—and they almost buy it as Washington pulls off some smooth old-school
His McCall was a pip all right. The kind of pip who can pre-visualize a
potentially explosive situation with brilliant Sherlock-level precision,
and dispatch would-be assailants with swift and often grisly violence.
He also employs a watch timer to judge how long it will take to wipe out
a threat. Usually, it is within seconds.
sense he hasn’t had to use these special skills for a while. Instead,
this apparent insomniac spends his nights sipping tea while reading
classics (including “The Old Man and the Sea,” “Don
Quixote” and “The Invisible Man,” titles that all comment on his current status) in
an all-night diner that Edward Hopper would appreciate. But he soon will
be called upon to pull his fighting skills out of hibernation after
meeting a sweet-but-wounded teen call girl who hangs out at the
restaurant between clients.
could be an uncomfortable relationship between retired killer and an
underage prostitute who goes by the name Teri is sensitively handled.
And it helps that Chloe Grace Moretz keeps her moppet’s precocious
sexuality in check, and instead makes a sincere connection with this
lonely widower, even revealing her dreams to be a singer. But when she
doesn’t show up for her usual late-night dessert after a brutal beating
by her Russian pimp has landed her in the hospital, McCall is ready to
return to duty.
there, it is a game of cat and mouse as Washington hunts down the
perpetrator and his thugs at a Russian restaurant. Part of the fun, if
you want to call it that, is how the baddies always underestimate him.
And pay quite the price in doing so. Let’s just say you might regard
corkscrews in a whole new way after this ugly confrontation.
course, there is a Mr. Big above the pimp, a gangster ironically named
Teddy whose torso is like a Sistine Chapel for Satanic images. Marton
Csokas sneers with sardonic relish and gives us someone truly hissable
to root against, especially as it becomes apparent how deeply these
Eastern European no-goodniks are engrained in corrupt activity in the
U.S. Meanwhile, Teddy’s boss is eager to locate the mystery avenger who
is knocking off his workers and undermining his lucrative businesses.
likes to turn the act of violence into a sort of crude ballet, complete
with repeated images of flowing water, as if washing evil away. All
that is fine, although it keeps “The Equalizer”
from being as lean and mean as it could be. While some might decry the
ludicrous showdown that unfolds in the darkened aisles of McCall’s
mega-store workplace, I got a kick out of watching Washington turn
everyday hardware supplies into lethal weaponry. Then again, I have been
a fan of mayhem occurring in a place of commerce ever since "Dawn of the
Dead"’s climactic zombies-vs.-humans battle that takes place inside of a
Basically, “The Equalizer”
is an average-Joe blue-collar version of a comic-book avenger, secretly
stalking those responsible for abusing and preying upon innocent
citizens. And this film acts as an origin story with an ending that
suggests a new franchise is afoot. It might not be bad for Washington to
stay in the action game in a series that at least acknowledges those
who qualify for a senior discount can be crusaders, too.