Denzel Washington is the main reason to see Antoine Fuqua’s bold and brutal crime drama, based on the hit but long-forgotten CBS series that ran on the network from ’85 to ’89, about a former secret agent who dispenses vigilante-type justice on behalf of defenseless, ordinary folks. Washington, who won an Oscar for Fuqua’s Training Day, delivers a perfectly modulated, slow-burn performance that lifts this otherwise conventional genre piece into an engaging entertainment that will please the core audience who turned Taken and Liam Neeson’s other action-oriented vehicles into global successes.
The movie begins with a quote from Mark Twain: “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” Apparently, Washington’s Robert McCall was born to not only be a guardian angel for down-on-their-luck good people, but also to unmercifully slaughter bad guys with ordinary objects, from corkscrews to hedge clippers, and take delicious delight in doing so -- as he does repeatedly over the film’s two-hour-plus running time.
The story is simple enough. McCall works at Home Mart, a Home Depot-like store in Boston, where he jokes that his previous occupation was as a Pip, one of the backup singers/dancers for soul legend Gladys Knight. He even does a few cool dance moves to better sell the lie to others. But McCall suffers from insomnia, so each night he heads down to a local diner (that looks like it was designed by Edward Hopper) to sip tea and read classic literature. Another early morning regular is Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young prostitute who dreams of becoming a singer. When Teri is roughed up by Slavi, her Russian pimp (Justified’s David Meunier), and lands in a hospital, McCall pays him a visit and offers to buy Teri’s freedom for 9,800 dollars. Slavi refuses, of course, but soon wishes he had accepted when McCall kills him and a roomful of his cohorts in a brisk 19 seconds. (McCall times everything, from grooming to gutting bad guys.) Unfortunately, Slavi’s boss is the head of the Russian mob, and he doesn’t appreciate that his illegal business ventures have been interrupted by the deaths. Soon, McCall is the target of a top Russian assassin.
While The Equalizer carries the name of a bygone TV show, its real roots stretch back to such 1970s hits as the Death Wish and Walking Tall movies, in which justice was served with brutal, deadly force. It also plays like a good-old-fashioned shoot-’em-up, in which the audience can’t wait until the good guy straps on his gun belt, mounts his horse, and rides into town to dispense with the outlaws. Even the ragged font Fuqua uses for the opening-credits sequence evokes a Western theme.
Yes, The Equalizer is predictable and it gets more ludicrous as it goes along, especially in the final, expertly staged set piece in which McCall turns the Home Mart into a house of horrors for the gangsters. It also defies belief that McCall is never questioned by the police in any of the killings, even though he is on surveillance footage and a coworker eventually witnesses his skill with a nail gun. But there is no arguing that this slick, solidly built action yarn delivers the goods. While it may not be as prestigious as Washington and Fuqua’s previous outing, it is equally as entertaining.
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- Released: 2000
- Rating: R
- Review: Denzel Washington is the main reason to see Antoine Fuqua’s bold and brutal crime drama, based on the hit but long-forgotten CBS series that ran on the network from ’85 to ’89, about a former secret agent who dispenses vigilante-type justice on behalf of d… (more)