An American Guy Ritchie with a little less bombast in his violence but a greater effort to flesh out his characters, he’s the gritty-crime-drama version of Five Guys Burgers – comfort food that’s dressed up nicely – for when you want something a little extra special but without the conservative formalities of fine dining. Think of former Denzel/Fuqua collaboration Training Day, Jamie Fox spy thriller Bait, ensemble cop drama Brooklyn’s Finest, Mark Wahlberg’s Shooter, and Gerard Butler’s recent Olympus Has Fallen. The Equalizer is no different, and if what you want is a tense, bloody, organized crime revenge tale that’s steeped in that moody atmosphere and with unsually well developed characters for the genre, then Denzel and Fuqua set down in front of you exactly what you’d ordered.
McCall rides a bus to work, reading a book on the way, checking his watch again as he arrives at work, where he stocks shelves and responds to whatever banter other employees offer with charismatic non-committance. It should have been apparent to any viewer before he left his house that McCall had spent his entire adult life – until just before we meet him – in a military career, before moving on to this very deliberately, very quiet life, around nice, simple people. None of his old habits have waned, yet he seems well established in his new routine.
Part of McCall’s routine involves helping others, including a Home Mart employee who’s determined to pass the security guard test, and Teri, a young customer (a hardly recognizable Chloe Grace Moretz) at the neighborhood late night diner – McCall’s one apparent indulgence. She’s determined she might one day be a singer, rebelling fiercely against the irreconcilable reality that she’s making her living as a Russian Mafia prostitute. “I think… you can be… anything – you want to be,” McCall tells her, with a warm, paternal sincerity. They discuss a book he’s been reading.
Fuqua’s efforts to craft a story with depth and texture can be seen and felt throughout these dramatic scenes, from start to finish. Readily digestible symbolism peppers the film, with greater effect than the the white globes of light marring many of the scenes from Fuqua’s Brooklyn’s Finest, with the color palette here telling as much about a scene as the action or dialogue.
McCall’s days are unusually easy to enumerate in this film, and yet every day he wears blue. Every day. And, his apartment is white, and the days are mostly grey. Until, that is, something changes his routine. He feels compelled to act against an injustice, and tries his best to resolve it with tremendous civility – but he’s now wearing black. There’s no question what this color means, and it should be noted the bad guy’s lair is painted entirely in black, though decorated with a Madonna and Child painting surrounded by an obnoxious, gilded frame, and numerous tattooed henchmen wearing gold jewelry, and an awful lot of skulls everywhere.
Acting is solid across the board, and largely exceptional. When does Denzel ever do anything that isn’t? Marton Csokas fills the shoes of McCall’s primary adversary, Teddy, and he’s superbly cast. Demonstrably sociopathic, yet eternally refined, scenes with Teddy and McCall crackle, particularly those with quiet dialogue.
And the action, while it develops slowly, builds nicely. Camerawork is at times clever, or cool – night vision and rifle scope point of views are a requisite for this type of film – but ultimately it’s all about McCall shaking of the cobwebs from his old skills, and taking down bad guys. Let’s just say that anything, literally anything, can be a weapon to a trained killer, and McCall ultimately demonstrates he’s an exceptionally handy handyman.
Synopsis: In The Equalizer, Denzel Washington plays McCall, a man who believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when McCall meets Teri (ChloÃ« Grace Moretz), a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t stand idly by – he has to help her. Armed with hidden skills that allow him to serve vengeance against anyone who would brutalize the helpless, McCall comes out of his self-imposed retirement and finds his desire for justice reawakened. If someone has a problem, if the odds are stacked against them, if they have nowhere else to turn, McCall will help. He is The Equalizer. – Sony Pictures
The Equalizer is particularly successful in using the medium of film for it’s most fundamental purpose: Show, don’t tell. If viewed from the perspective ‘form follows function,’ where the function is entertainment, The Equalizer succeeds marvelously. It’s not quite Shakespeare, but solid stuff nonetheless.