This stylish, well-executed but empty, middle-aged-bloke-with-skills-on-mission-of-vengeance, sees Denzel Washington take on the Russian Mafia. In a bold re-boot of the 80’s TV franchise, only Denzel, Chloe Grace Moretz and Martin Csokas make this in any way interesting.
Distinguished only by the graphic killings with improvised weapons (I always knew DIY was dangerous), this is a genre-movie in the lengthening tradition of Neeson, Costner, Reeves, Brosnan, Penn and (sigh) Segal.
Saintly Robert McCall (Washington – Flight, Book of Eli) works in a hardware store by day and battles insomnia by reading high-brow books in a diner by night – which is where he befriends teen prostitue Elena. His mission of redemption leads him into a series of violent encounters with Russian gangsters and corrupt cops, as we discover – wouldn’t you know it – McCall is a former intelligence operative.
So if the plot is entirely unremarkable, and the Russian Mafia the over-used (see John Wick) ultra-hard bad guys, is there anything to lift The Equalizer out of the ordinary?
Cinematography and editing give it a stylish gloss beloved of this kind of action-flick violence-voyerism, so it looks good even when revelling in much of its distasteful carve-ups, stabbings and bone breakings. This is a strong fifteen certificate, particularly for the gruesome endings of Russian gangsters in the hardware store.
The anything-but-‘visionary’ genre director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus has Fallen, Shooter) is competent but reliant on his stars. Richard Wenk’s (Expendables 2, The Mechanic) level-headed, rather intense script isn’t afraid to take it’s time, with a long set-up involving McCall’s OCD, book choices, and Feng Shui. After that it rests on the lead performances.
Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-ass, Hugo) has graduated to teen-prostitute, lucky girl. Oh, to be a Hoolywood A-list rising star. Moretz lights up the screen whatever she’s in; unfortunately there’s too little of her in this, and it’s mostly standard victim fare in the top-and-tail.
Which leaves the big confrontation between Denzel, re-treading his excellent Man on Fire role, and Csokas (Dream House, Aeon Flux). Czoskas is on form as a properly scary, stone-cold psycho, a former Spetznatz commando turned fixer for the Russian mob. Ultra-violent, but in an extremely professional way, Csokas has the heft to match Denzel in their various encounters, including their obligatory face-off in a restaurant. It worked for De Niro and Pacino in Heat, so let’s all do that. Again. Years ago it would have been at the bar in a saloon.
Let’s face it, this is another man-with-no-name, lone gun-slinger, vengenace Western dressed up in a hardware store apron. It is very well assembled according to the Ikea instructions, and covers its clichés with a veneer of respectability, but let’s face it The Equalizer is a high-end bit of repro furniture from the 1970’s Death Wish production line and not that different from a Max Payne or a Hitman or any of the writer and director’s previous works. And with the damage done to the genre by Neeson, Reeves, Costner and that other bloke, it’s hard not to laugh it as a parody of a pastiche of a SNL spoof.
No mistake, I’ll watch Denzel read the telephone book, but all things being equal, I can live without a sequel. RC
The Equalizer (2015)
Director: Antoine Fucqua
Writer: Richard Wenk
Running time: 2 hr. 11 min.
Cast: Denzel Washington, Martin Szoskas, Chloe Grace Moretz