Review: The Equalizer
Denzel Washington’s compartmentalizing character in Antoine Fuqua’s new action thriller might as well refer to himself as ‘The Equalizer’ when people ask; he sure does a lot of other ridiculous, cheesy things.
A similar sense of absurdity is employed by this hyper violent, moralizing story that hits the audience over the head with symbolism while literally bashing in the head of myriad mobsters.
A Twain quote gives way to a genial man reading The Old Man and the Sea in what should be the last piece of literary allusions – it’s not, but we get it, we really do. This man who calls himself Bob is proper and a bit obsessive compulsive, enjoys his employment at a Home Depot-type store, helps his coworkers, and even tries to protect the innocence of an underage prostitute.
It’s this encounter with Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz) that allows Robert McCall to return to doing something he had done so well in the past: kill people. Taking down a room full of tattooed and armed Russians sets in motion a series of events, most wildly gratuitous and some absurdly funny, that finds McCall returning to his roots as whatever secret agent mercenary things he was.
What we know of him now is that he is super charming with a questionable sense of morals. Despite professing he gives the people he is about to kill a chance to atone, it’s not really the case. And that’s nothing to say of his penchant for gruesome, almost torturous murders; he also watches intently the last bit of life escape these wayward souls.
When The Equalizer forgoes its frivolous tangents and weak attempts to be a serious, compelling drama, it can be especially entertaining – Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman are wasted in an unnecessary scene. While the excessive violence, especially against women, is unnerving, there is this occasional cartoonish quality that allows the audience to cheer on McCall when he say, walks away slowly from an explosion, fights slow motion in the rain, or suddenly emerges from the shadows ready to take down a horde of bad guys.
The inability to reconcile the desire to be grave and dark versus a canonization of McCall as some superhero killer makes The Equalizer a difficult watch, especially at its two-plus run time. Because virtually half the film crafts a story of a good, likeable man seeking justice through violence and revenge and another half with a Taken-esque thriller featuring an unrealistic hero on a mission, neither is fully realized.
Unfortunately too, The Equalizer continues to oscillate being the two incongruent tones. It’s fine, if not a bit silly, when before McCall’s first massacre that time stops, music swells, and blood readies to spew; let’s just not pretend that everything that follows has morals and is grounded in reality. The Equalizer is laughably entertaining and satisfyingly bad; it just doesn’t know it.