“Gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what.”- McCall
Directed By: Antoine Fuqua
Written By: Richard Wenk, Michael Sloan
Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Denzel Washington. As great of an actor as he is, I can’t help but to feel like I’m watching the same character with a different crisis to handle in most of his past work. When he teamed up with director Antoine Fuqua in 2001 for his Oscar winning performance in Training Day, I just wasn’t enthralled or fascinated as most viewers seemed to be. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film, but nothing about it struck me as the cult classic type of film that it became. My favorite Denzel role has always been his surprisingly overlooked performance in John Q. That was one of the few roles that made me forget I was watching Denzel. He became the character and made the film even more powerful than the subject matter.
Now that I’ve indulged in giving my unpopular opinion on Mr. Washington, let’s proceed. I read several other reviews before viewing The Equalizer and one of the common complaints seemed to be that the film tried too hard to be too many things. While viewing, I actually saw what they were saying; however, I never felt it was a negative thing. I’m not sure what Fuqua was going for with this one but if it was shock value, I think he may have found a winning formula. I will give a brief overview but there will be no spoilers involved for those who have not seen it yet.
Washington plays Robert McCall. For much of the first hour we only know him as “Bob”. The first 30 minutes of the film takes us through his routine and disciplined lifestyle. Although we don’t know anything about his past at this point, the precision in which he performs the most mundane of tasks pretty much foreshadows that McCall is not your average Joe. He works a normal retail job at a Home Depot type store. It becomes apparent as he communicates with his coworkers that they don’t know much about McCall either. Even with their limited knowledge of his background, his coworkers appear to trust his character and leadership. The last part of McCall’s daily routine involves him ending his evening in a small diner with a book. In this diner he usually has a brief conversation with a young prostitute, named Teri, who also frequents the establishment. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that her well being is tugging at something within McCall that he is trying to keep suppressed. Well, inevitably she gets mixed up in some trouble and then the film goes into full swing.
Teri is played by Chloe Grace Mortez. She has been in several hit movies but her most prominent role would have to be Hit Girl in the Kick-Ass films. She does a decent job becoming this young girl who is clearly only doing what she feels she has to do, despite her conflicting moral compass. Her employment under Russian gangsters is what eventually brings out the McCall that had been suppressed and hidden. I think she brings an interesting element to the film because she isn’t the typical, wholesome damsel in distress that dominates action flicks. I feel the ethical conflict that her character introduces can make for various viewer opinions on the protagonist’s motives. My opinion is that he identified with her because he saw a person with a good heart who thought her place in life was to do things she didn’t enjoy doing, or even agree with doing. McCall tells her a story early in the film about an old fisherman who loses a catch to a shark. When she questioned him about the fisherman’s failure to fight for his catch, he replied “Gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what.”. At this moment in the film, I felt McCall was having a raging internal battle with his past.
One of the major highlights and surprises for me in The Equalizer was Marton Csokas as Teddy. Teddy is brought in by the Russian mob to investigate and “dispose of” the sudden security threat brought on by McCall. As far as villains go, Csokas made Teddy perfection. He had a menacing screen presence that we are only really treated to sporadically. It doesn’t take long to figure out that he and McCall are set to meet their match in each other and the film plays off of this building tension in a nearly surgical manner.
I mentioned earlier that I saw what other viewers meant when they complained the movie was trying too hard to be too many things. As I said, I did not see this as a negative thing in this instance as I normally would, only because of the execution. Having an uneven tone and disjointed intensity can normally make way for a mess of a film, but I feel Fuqua was able to strategically switch gears at just the right times with The Equalizer. The first half of the film felt relatively slow in parts and it can be frustrating as the viewer to feel left in the dark on so many details about the protagonist. Instead of taking timeout in montages and flashbacks to explain who McCall was, Fuqua allowed the audience to piece things together from dialogue. I actually found that approach to work pretty well and even thought it added to the building intensity of the movie. I also mentioned earlier that John Q was my favorite Denzel role as I felt it was one of the few where he actually disappeared into his character. I realized soon after leaving the theater that the entire time I was watching The Equalizer, I really only saw him as “Bob”. I think it’s safe to say that this is now my favorite, as I feel he shows a menacing and brutal hero that could not be portrayed successfully by many other actors.
Once the film shifts into full gear, the violence comes in full throttle. I really didn’t expect to see anything more than gun fights but Fuqua throws the audience into a cringe worthy, brutality fest. This added to the shock value I enjoyed so much in the film. There were times in the film where I actually felt like I was watching a Tarantino directed super hero flick. This really felt like an experimental effort from Fuqua. The cinematography takes different tones as the film intensifies as well as the score. There are a few scenes that would not have been nearly as suspenseful without the musical composition’s support, especially the climatic battle. My main complaint would be that the ending wrapped up some loose ends too quickly. After two plus hours of a roller coaster film experience, I need a little more effort put into the closure. I also felt that the final meeting between McCall and Teddy took the easy way out. I would have appreciated a little more effort there after such a great build up. All in all, I think this is top notch entertainment as far as action thrillers go. I don’t think we will see any Oscar nominations produced from this one, but The Equalizer is worth the price of admission.