Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 11 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence and Language throughout, including some Sexual References
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Richard Wenk
Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, Bill Pullman & Melissa Leo
Based on the 80’s TV series of the same name, THE EQUALIZER feels like it belongs in the 80’s as a very fun and surprisingly classy action-thriller. I’ve been seeing trailers and behind-the-scenes clips for this film nearly every single time I went to a movie theater for the past three months. In this sense, it’s almost kind of a relief to finally have seen this film and not watch the same promotional material over and over again. It’s also good that THE EQUALIZER is really enjoyable too. This is a simple story that’s a popcorn flick in the best way.
McCall is the nice guy and goes through his everyday life in carefully calculated routines. He goes to work, helps his friends, drinks tea at a diner during the night hours, and is making his way through 100 notable books. After McCall befriends a troubled young prostitute and she gets beaten close to death by her Russian pimp, he takes justice into his own hands and does away with these Russian gangsters. Turns out that the guys he took out are well-connected to an even bigger crime syndicate and the sinister hitman Teddy (with a not so sinister sounding name) arrives in the city looking for McCall. A cat and mouse game begins between this highly trained do-gooder and the cold assassin. This struggle also leads to a lot of over-the-top violence and a high body count.
What you see on the surface going into THE EQUALIZER is really what you get. The plot isn’t complicated and shouldn’t necessarily need to be. Everything boils down to a good old-fashioned tale of good vs. evil. The good guy here happens to be extremely talented in the art of kicking ass and taking names. The evil happens to be an unfeeling lunatic connected to the Russian mafia (arguably one of the worst nationalities of organized crime). Though the mafia uses guns a plenty, I don’t think Denzel really went to town on a guy with a conventional firearm (with one exception). The film runs at over two hours and is well paced. There is time given to setting up our hero and showing why he’s the kind of person who would go to these lengths to dish out justice. Another refreshing quality is that he always gives his potential victim a choice between continuing down their current path or doing the right thing. The climactic final showdown is awesome and since the violence in mainly inflicted on gangsters, you don’t have to feel bad about them getting hurt.
The cast lends a lot of credibility to a plot that seems like it was ripped right out of the 80’s (makes sense since that’s when the series aired). Denzel Washington has played this kind of character before and does it well again here. Chloe Grace Moretz has a brief side role, though she’s set up as the catalyst for Denzel Washington kicking ass and winds up forgotten for the rest of the film. Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo have a couple of scenes with Denzel that come off as entirely pointless (more on this in the next paragraph). It was cool to see David Harbour (who was terrifying in A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES last weekend) return as a far more cowardly henchman. The real stand-out is Marton Csokas as Teddy. He steals every scene he’s in and I loved him as the bad guy. Csokas relishes in the his character’s unflinching evil and is a blast to watch.
As entertaining as THE EQUALIZER is, there are also a handful of distracting issues. The film does get excessive to say the least. Denzel’s McCall is almost a magical figure, because he’s always able to outsmart the baddies around every corner and has a limitless amount of knowledge that makes him a genius capable of pretty much anything. It’s fun to watch this badass take down all of these scumbags, but he’s never really given a full-blown challenge. Everything works out for him, no matter how many things are stacked against him. Slow-motion and the central character walking away from an explosion also find there way into this film. Both are played straight-faced, but elicited laughs from myself and my fellow moviegoers. The script also neglects potentially cool plot threads in favor for pointless moments. I feel this movie may have been even more enjoyable if it had just focused on Denzel going up against the Russian mob, but the side threads introduced come off as filler.
Sometimes it doesn’t cover the most potentially awesome parts of the story and the material is far from anything original, but THE EQUALIZER is a lot of fun in an old-school kick-ass action movie way. It’s cheesy, silly, clichéd, but also highly enjoyable. There’s a whole lot of grisly violence inflicted on people who deserve every bit of pain that’s given to them. Denzel Washington is as great as he usually is. Marton Csokas is the big stand-out as the central bad guy. It’s a blast to watch them play off each other. This is as solid a movie as you might expect about a guy with a mysterious past taking down Russian gangsters in action-packed ways.