IT ISN’T ALL that bad. This may seem like damming by faint praise, but, based upon the dire reviews (the reviews in the US were more positive), it was only the drumming grey rain that motivated me into the cinema to see Denzil Washington’s latest action adventure.
When we meet Denzil’s character, Robert McCall, he’s a popular blue-collar worker at a Boston DIY warehouse/Home Depot type shop. Denzel does blue-collar, everyman, well, as we’ve seen recently from “Unstoppable” and “The Taking of Pelham 123”. Robert is helpful, he’s ‘giving’, he’s well liked by his customers…and he can’t sleep at nights. So most nights he spends at a local all-night diner where he reads a book (he’s ploughing through the list of the one hundred books you must read, almost as an act of homage to his dead wife). He’s also time-obsessed and OCD-fastidious (Not particularly relevant character traits; they’re simply there to add some sort of quirkiness to his character). This character, ridiculous though it is, is executed with such panache that for the twenty or thirty minutes of character exposition and ‘backgrounding’, we’re kept gripped and enthralled. It’s the thirty-minute action movie foreplay that simply heightens our sensations for the thrills to follow once they are unleashed.
It’s at the diner where his casual non-judgmental friendliness with Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz of “Kick Ass” fame), a teenage Russian prostitute and wannabe singer, leads him into a world of danger. In response to a brutal assault on Teri by one of her pimps, McCall reluctantly decides to step in and, well, equalize things. He does so by taking out the five-man team of Russian gangsters who manage a stable of prostitutes, shake down local business etc. Alas, they are but the tip of the iceberg.
For the rest of the film, we see McCall skillfully taking down the rest of the iceberg.
There’s nothing even faintly redeeming about this movie. Antoine Fuqua (“Olympus Has Fallen”, “Shooter”) is a highly competent director (he helped Denzil to gain his first Oscar, playing against the grain with the gritty “Training Day”), but “The Equalizer” is by no means pulp fiction turned into art. He’s no Tarantino.
Nevertheless, he, along with Denzel’s compelling screen presence have created an engagingly entertaining take-no-prisoners, ex special ops hero and a fun way to spend a wet afternoon. “The Equalizer” is on the same level of two wildly different, but not dissimilar movies: “Under Siege” – one of Steven Seagal’s best (OK, his only watchable movie) – and an old Western, “Chato’s Land” (which had that marvelous tag line: “What Chato’s land doesn’t kill, Chato will”). In both, the hero dismantles armies of baddies methodically, one by one.
McCall gets knocked about, knifed, shot, bleeds and –possibly- feels pain like real people. But he’s not, really. He’s a death-defying badass, whose nocturnal murderous good deeds are, if you enter into things with the right spirit, a delight to watch. There is no question that “The Equalizer” is the beginning of a franchise; the movie ends with a pretty explicit suggestion that a Part Two will soon be along (and especially since it’s opened at $36M, they’re probably filming Part Two even now). It’s also one of the first action movies that seems to be aimed at filling the yawning gap left by the absence of Jason Bourne.
Come back, come back Matt Damon. All is forgiven.