Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Premise: An adaptation of the 1980s television series. A man with a mysterious past (Denzel Washington) leads a quiet and contemplative life as the manager of a hardware store. When he’s confronted with violence and corruption, the man draws on his skill set to mete out justice.
What Works: The Equalizer is a generally satisfying action picture. There’s nothing about it that’s especially innovative but the filmmakers have a firm handle on the kind of movie that they are trying to make and they succeed in doing that. The Equalizer was directed by Antoine Fuqua and following titles like Brooklyn’s Finest and Olympus Has Fallen, this film is a step up for the director. He does action pretty well but The Equalizer is a little more refined in its filmmaking. One of the impressive aspects of The Equalizer is the restraint that the filmmakers employ, especially in the first half. The movie does not give itself over to violence, preferring instead a slow build. The script is an interesting mashup of Death Wish and Taxi Driver. That combination shouldn’t work because those two movies have very different approaches to the same subject matter; Death Wish revels in its violence and endorses vigilantism where Taxi Driver critiques the same and portrays its vigilante as a disturbed person. The filmmakers of The Equalizer borrow from both of these films and manage to make something coherent out of it. Denzel Washington’s character is not psychotic nor does he want to be violent but when confronted with injustice he steps in and defends people who cannot defend themselves. The Equalizer is much more action oriented in its second half and some of the action sequences are very well executed. Especially impressive is the climax in which Washington’s character uses the implements of a hardware store to take out a group of gunmen. The villain of The Equalizer is played by Marton Csokas as the emissary of an unseen gang boss. Csokas manages to be an entertaining and threatening presence and he gives Washington’s hero a worthy adversary.
What Doesn’t: Many of the problems of The Equalizer are familiar from other movies of this type. The filmmakers play fast and loose with their credulity. Some of these are practical problems such as Washington’s character firing a nail gun as though it were a pistol and there are gaps in the plotting as characters jump to conclusions without evidence. Audiences for these kinds of movies generally go along with these kinds of implausibilities so the logical flaws don’t ruin the picture. The Equalizer is also a little over familiar in many respects. If you’ve seen one Denzel Washington shoot ‘em up you’ve pretty much seen them all. Washington’s role in The Equalizer is virtually the same character that he played in Man on Fire, The Book of Eli, and 2 Guns. Playing a familiar character type is not unusual among action movie stars; John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Harrison Ford made a career out of that. The problem is that Washington’s character in The Equalizer is severely underwritten. We know that he reads, is very neat, and that he has the skillset of a Hollywood super assassin but that’s about it. Even Liam Neeson’s character in the first Taken picture had more personality than this and he had something concrete at stake in the story. In one of The Equalizer’s more severe lifts from Taxi Driver, Washington’s character befriends an underage prostitute played by Chloe Grace Moretz. Their interaction gives the movie many of its best scenes but after the first third of the movie Moretz disappears from the story only to reappear again in the finale. The presence of an actress as big a star as Moretz in such a small role is distracting and her absence undercuts the tension in the movie.
Bottom Line: The Equalizer is a solidly entertaining action picture. It’s got a lot of flaws and it’s never much more than okay but there is just enough about it that is engaging to merit a recommendation.
Episode: #511 (October 5, 2014)