On the Silver Screen – The Equalizer
Denzel Washington stars as Robert McCall in The Equalizer. McCall is a man trying to put a mysterious past behind him but is compelled to help a young girl named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is being violently mistreated by Russian gangsters.
This film is based on an old TV show that I haven’t seen and am only aware of anecdotally so I’m unable to really make any meaningful points about how effective an adaptation this film is so I’ll merely be covering it by the merits of what I’ve seen. Robert McCall was an interesting character from his first appearance; he’s clearly a hard working and helpful guy who gets along with everyone around him. We see him helping a colleague to lose weight in order to increase his chances of becoming a security guard among other things so it’s clear that’s a likeable guy. Washington brings his standard charm to the role to help the audience identify with him. As roles go it seems to be tailor made for Denzel Washington as the character allows him to play to his strengths.
Washington gives the character some nice little touches to enhance him such as the subtle OCD that he exhibits but is never directly referenced by the script and never really becomes a plot point other than the meticulous way he carries out everything he does. All of his dialogue is delivered with a sincerity that makes some of his cheesier lines sound less corny. In a very short space of time I felt that I knew a lot about this character and got a sense that he has a colourful past that doesn’t ever get fully brought up.
It quickly becomes clear that his past involved some incredibly violent acts that he is very skillful at performing; comparisons to Liam Neeson’s Brian Mills in the Taken series are not lost on me and aren’t inappropriate here, it could be said that this film is Denzel Washington’s Taken. The trigger for McCall to dust off his old ways comes when Teri is put in the hospital after a severe beating from her pimp which prompts a really effective scene where McCall confronts the Russian gangsters in their headquarters and offers them a chance to release Teri from service.
As might be expected this is declined and McCall is forced to seek justice for her another way. This scene is full of tension with an impressive array of hand to hand combat as McCall takes on multiple men single handedly and defeats them with ease. It would have been easy for him to have gone on the offensive straight away but the offer he makes them is a nice character moment showing McCall’s ethics, something that I felt was very important in making him a protagonist worth following. If I felt he was killing indiscriminately without showing the audience that he likes to find another way if possible then I’d have found him far harder to follow.
This event spirals into an all out war against organised crime in the surrounding area, pitting McCall against every mob boss and corrupt cop around. Remarkably it never really feels like he’s out of his depth and he is always calmly in control of the situation and there are some great scenes showing McCall’s skill at reading people and their true intentions. There are some clever moments where his OCD alerts him to the presence of others since everything in his life is meticulously accounted for.
Pacing wise the film is somewhat awkward, there’s a lot of time spent setting up the character and I had no problem with that but after that certain aspects of the film seemed rushed. McCall seems to know what’s happening before it happens but it feels like there’s something of a disconnect from one event to the next so I never really get a feel for how he knows the things he knows or how he arranges the counters to the attacks. The climatic action sequence in a hardware store seems to be endless but it is entertaining to see the charming Home Alone quality to the traps he sets. Martin Csokas’ Teddy proves to be a pretty uninteresting villain after some pretty effective earlier scenes as well.
There’s a distinct modern quality to the film in terms of music and the way that it’s shot which might lead it to age poorly over a short space of time. Rapid cutting in the action scenes is mercifully at a minimum and the score is generally very good at evoking the necessary mood.
A solid action film with a charismatic lead in Denzel Washington. The character of Robert McCall is really likeable and interesting and Washington’s presence elevates an uneven script with awkward pacing and an unmemorable villain. The film feels very modern which might cause it to become dated very quickly but generally it is a good vehicle for the leading man and I can see it jumping off into a franchise.