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Worth A Look: 10.53%
Pretty Bad: 5.26%
Total Crap: 31.58%

2 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Equalizer, The
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by Brett Gallman

"Deja vu."
3 stars

In its relentless pursuit to reboot everything with a grim and gritty sensibility, Hollywood has come around to resurrecting “The Equalizer,” a relatively short-lived but popular television series centered on a man’s quest for vigilante justice. Such an approach feels passé and exhausting at this point, yet that’s really the least of the film’s problems. More disconcerting is its refusal to actually commit to this mode, as it instead wears it like an accessory that adds a sense of faux-profundity to a film that’s mostly about one guy’s quest to just kill and blow up everything in his path.

But that’s just his moonlighting position: by day, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a mild-mannered home improvement warehouse clerk. Unfailingly—and one might say preternaturally—kind to everyone around him, he’s committed to helping everyone realize their potential, such as his somewhat rotund co-worker who needs to lose weight in order to become the store’s security guard. One of his favorite haunts is a picturesque diner, where he reads books and engages in chit-chat with a teenaged prostitute (Chloe Moretz).

When one of her handlers savagely beats her to the brink of death, it awakens Robert’s repressed urge to seek justice. Upon unleashing his particular set of skills on a group of brutes, he unwittingly draws the ire of a Russian mobster who suspects his operations to be under siege by rival gangsters. In retaliation, he dispatches top henchman Teddy (Martin Csokas), a ruthless, nigh-Satanic figure acting as the yin to McCall’s yang.

The 130+ minute long proceedings have these two dancing around each other for much of the runtime, and, to the script’s credit, it craftily builds anticipation as their inevitable clash approaches. Teddy is a truly sadistic, savage instrument of blunt force, with Csokas bringing an immediate menace to the film as he deals with clueless underlings—and that’s before he nearly pummels a guy’s face clean off of his head. Meanwhile, in what may mimic the episodic quality of the original television series, McCall embarks on vigilante missions that have him taking down dirty cops and thwarting robbers. Both men are efficient and calculating in their dealings and are sort of engaged in a game of cat and mouse where both men are pretty sure they’re the cat, an interesting concept that blurs the lines between two men who thrive on vicious violence.

Apparently, this minimalist setup isn’t enough, so the film balloons into a needlessly labyrinthine thriller that finds McCall committed to taking down an entire branch of the Russian mob. It’s not an intimate mediation so much as it’s a comic book movie draped in a thin veneer of prestige, complete with an unflappable hero dispensing both righteous justice and cool one-liners. All the while, the impetus for it all recedes further and further into the background, as Moretz’s character all but disappears from the film, thus yielding the film to the harsh, cocksure world inhabited by callous men dedicated to inflicting pain on each other. “The Equalizer” is the sort of movie that knows its badass is awesome and tries to carry itself with the appropriate swagger while also trying to maintain some semblance of decorum.

On the latter front, it fails sort of spectacularly, which is to say it doesn’t fail miserably. There’s a trashy pleasure to be found in its degeneration from possibly high-minded rumination to Denzel Washington just straight going Michael Myers on motherfuckers in a Home Depot. (This after he completely demolishes mob strongholds and calmly walks away with flames engulfing the background, a ludicrous and lovely cliché that speaks to just how quickly director Antoine Fuqua loses his grip on this thing.) Of course, even this is played a little bit too seriously—even as McCall is rigging up his workplace with ridiculous booby traps, a droning, portentous score and copious slow-motion shots attempt to class it up in some way.

Such desperate attempts to deny the film’s true nature is evident throughout, from Fuqua’s glossy, well-burnished aesthetic to Richard Wenk’s heavy-handed screenplay, which contains plenty of sledgehammered motifs to drive its shallow themes home. Conveniently, McCall finds himself reading “The Old Man and the Sea” before undertaking his own similar journey into a “part of his life that he thought was over.” A journey, I might add, that eventually has him standing next to the sea. A later reading choice is presumably “Don Quixote,” as McCall mentions it’s a tale about man who takes up the mantle of knighthood in a world without knights—just as he has done, of course (only instead of tilting at windmills, he’s blowing them to shit).

Attempting to bring such reverence to a film that doesn’t deserve it isn’t admirable—it’s foolhardy. Nearly every grasp at profundity is undercut by one fit of silliness or another. One way or the other, it’s too bad: the film never reaches its absurd heights and is slightly stifled by the filmmakers’ heavy hands, yet it’s just silly enough that it never seriously considers its characters to be anything but avatars. The actors are all quite reliable, particularly Washington, who coolly oscillates between a smooth-talking charmer to a smooth-talking throat-slasher. For the most part, he operates within those two modes but occasionally broods to hint at McCall’s tragic backstory, an episode that becomes illuminated when Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman drop by to provide some exposition.

Washington at least has a fine foil in Csokas, who is similarly tasked with elevating a rather flat character into something memorable, and he does so almost immediately. Initially, it seems as though Teddy might simply be a menacing presence with the power to coerce others into doing his dirty work, but he abolishes that notion quickly with a sadistic show of force revealing an unholy brutality that permeates the entire film. Again, a better film might have explored how both men must resort to such displays; this one asks you to alternate between recoiling and delighting in them as it somehow becomes a rousing revenge film, the sort of film your mom might enjoy because that Denzel is such a disarming scoundrel. She could probably do without his creative nail-gun use, though.

Predictably, the film also leaves the door open for further adventures, though I’m not sure where exactly a follow-up could go considering this first outing is pretty expansive. Maybe it should just go bigger and broader; after all, “The Equalizer” is already a “Death Wish” imitator that doesn’t realize it really wants to be “Death Wish 3.”

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originally posted: 09/27/14 17:39:23
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 San Diego Film Festival For more in the 2014 San Diego Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell starts slow but becomes good 4 stars
10/14/14 GC Great until the end...went way overboard. Equalizer was never that violent. 3 stars
10/06/14 KingNeutron They played a few too many tricks on the viewer, but otherwise enjoyable 4 stars
10/02/14 joey from brooklyn slick movie but really unbelievable 3 stars
9/29/14 Bob Dog Denzel Good / Movie Mediocre 3 stars
9/28/14 mr.mike One critic said "not as good as it could have been". Sadly, I agree. 3 stars
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  26-Sep-2014 (R)
  DVD: 30-Dec-2014


  DVD: 30-Dec-2014

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