The Equalizer (***1/2) is brutal art in motion

Equalizer

The Equalizer – 2014

Director Antoine Fuqua
Starring Denzel Washington,  Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo
Screenplay Richard Wenk based on the TV Show by Richard Lindheim and Michael Sloane

The Equalizer is the type of story that would have agonized one to watch if it had been created by lesser talents than Fuqua and especially Denzel. Bearing only the slightest resemblance to the smooth performance of Edward Woodward in the 80’s TV show, Washington plays Robert McCall, a retired CIA SAD agent who finds himself siding with the underdog, leading him to exact vigilante justice when the situation requires his help. His actions lead to the disposal of Russian mafia wing. This brings the attention of the mafia boss, who then sends in an enforcer (Csokas) to find McCall’s identity and exact revenge.

The neither the script nor the acting is going to win any awards. Washington is gives an effective performance as a man who’s constantly balancing the morality of his actions versus the weight of his past. This is the kind of performance we have come to expect from him, but nobody even comes close to the skill he exhibits in giving the audience a window to his soul, but only the narrowest of views.

Combine this with Fuqua’s undeniable talent for perspective and beautiful scenery of even the most grotesque of situations, and you have a film worthy of multiple viewings. I never realized that one could make the reflection of water running down a street in a rainstorm work multiple times to set the mood of a film. Much of the film takes place in the dark, or through night vision, but it all works in a cohesive fashion, much in contrast to the jarring style presented in Washington’s other “protect the innocent” thriller, the completely awful Man on Fire.

Csokas provides a worthy counter balance to Washington’s character, and he has the skill to carry the lunkhead actors forced to fall for every feint presented in the film. Of course this is countered by the collection of victims the story lines up for McCall to rescue. Even Moretz gets sucked up into that void. Melissa Leo finally plays against her repulsive type as one of McCall’s old partners. Pullman also surprises as her husband and fellow retired agent. Their time in the story is so brief, it intrigues the viewer as to the potential of a sequel.

The last 1/3 of the film is a series of set ups for McCall to knock down. There is never any doubt who is going to win after we find that he is making “an exception” to his promise to not do bad stuff made to a woman no longer in his life. He has an overweight buddy who dreams of being a security guard. Once we see him handling a gun late in the film, it’s not too hard to imagine how much use he gets out of that gun by the end of the film. One hint: he ain’t Reginald Vel Johnson.

This is all augmented by Fuqua’s indelible skill in presenting Washington’s McCall as a man who tries hard not to enjoy the process of taking out bad guys with extreme prejudice. Watching the look in his eyes as he stares at a man whose life is ending by a barbed wire noose is all you need to understand the depth of contrast in this man’s character. The inventiveness of the dispatching of bad guys has more character than those who are knocked off, but wow, it all looks so cool.

Ultimately, the strength of this film is limited by its supporting characters. As good as Washington and Fuqua are, they don’t add as much flesh to the story as needed to overcome the script’s lack of depth. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. It just means it’s not a great one.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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