Movie Review: “The Equalizer” – Pain-ing Day

Written by Leo Panasyuk September 30, 2014

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The last time Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua collaborated was over ten years ago for the gritty police drama “Training Day” and boy did it pay off, as Washington won his (well-deserved and long overdue) first Academy Award for Best Actor. Now, Washington and Fuqua are back for another bout of action and though “The Equalizer” likely won’t net either the acclaim they previously enjoyed, it is still an enjoyable (if dark) action film based on the 1980s television series of the same name.

“What Do You See When You Look at Me?”

Washington plays Robert McCall, an ordinary man (with hidden extraordinary skills, of course) who spends his days working at a Home Depot-like store and his nights reading old literature classics such as Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” When McCall befriends young Teri (Chloe Grace-Moretz), he tries to help her realize and actualize her artistic potential and get her away from her abusive lifestyle of working under the thumb of the local Russian mafia. But when Teri is brutally beaten to the point of hospitalization by said mafia, McCall must put his extraordinary skills to work and begins combating them, “brick by brick, body by body.”

Though a small role, Chloe Grace-Moretz still remains one of Hollywood's best young up-and-comers.

Though a small role, Chloe Grace-Moretz still remains one of Hollywood’s best young up-and-comers.

Washington is undoubtedly the film’s strongest selling point and he is worth every penny of admission. He steals every scene he’s in and proves that he can still play the tough, merciless killer while still tapping into his softer, more human side – though this creates some issues in terms of understanding his character. The film takes a while to get things rolling and instead opts to show us McCall’s life, from waking up at a strict hour, to his meticulous morning routine, to his job, to his nights spent at a diner reading. Though when the film does take a turn into an avenue of action, it is brutal, bloody, and vicious.

The action is stylized in the vein of Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” films, where the film will show McCall reading and interpreting his environment and its assailants, eyeing improvisational weapons and weak spots, before zooming back out and having us watch the mayhem unfold. However, to know how soft and kind he is creates some discrepancies in his character when you see just how cold he is when it comes to killing, forcing you to question his humanity (and possibly even his sanity). It’s interesting to note that, apart from one very brief instance, McCall uses absolutely no on-screen weaponry at all and instead relies on his body and mind as his ultimate weapons, employing barbed wire, kitchen cutlery, and even a power drill at one point to dispatch his enemies.

The calm before the storm.

The calm before the storm.

“A Man with His Skill… I Want to Know Who He Really Is”

Apart from Washington’s incredible performance, I have to levy a large amount of praise to Martin Csokas as Teddy, the film’s main antagonist. Teddy is a specialist sent in from Russia to deal with McCall and there are many interesting parallels between their characters, even their methods of brutality. Teddy is a calm, confident, and calculating killer (like McCall) and he sells his character flawlessly to the point that you can’t wait for him to be ‘equalized.’ There is an interesting scene where the two men share an exchange at a restaurant and in it, we learn more about Teddy’s background and how he came to be who he is. Besides Grace-Moretz’s character (who’s only real purpose is to serve as the catalyst to the reawakening of McCall’s skills) there are a few other secondary characters such as David Harbour who plays a corrupt police detective who (unwillingly) helps McCall in his crusade against the mafia, a fellow employee of McCall’s who has security guard aspirations, and a strange and unnecessary cameo by Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo, who act as light anchors to McCall’s military past.

Yet another actor who I'd love to see as a future Bond villain.

Yet another actor who I’d love to see as a future Bond villain.

Overall

Antoine Fuqua’s “The Equalizer” is the director’s second collaboration with Denzel Washington and it is great to see them working together again. Fuqua’s serious direction coupled with Washington’s strong acting give the film a realistic sense and the inclusion of Martin Csokas as the villain is the trifecta that makes the film truly great – though not particularly amazing. The film has a few plot holes by the end and its finale is reminiscent of the finales of “Home Alone” and “Skyfall” but for the most part, it’s a dark and serious look into a man who becomes catapulted back into a life he long thought he lost and sees that when injustice tips the scales of society the wrong way, someone has to step in and use their own brand of justice to equalize the imbalance.

My Rating: 8/10

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About Leo Panasyuk

A fan of all things film, Leo never really lets himself get tied down to one specific genre. He's always interested in watching new and old films and especially loves the IMAX format. When he's not choosing which movie to watch next, he's studying Film and English at Western University.

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