Main cast: Denzel Washington (Robert McCall), Marton Csokas (Teddy), Chloë Grace Moretz (Teri), David Harbour (Masters), Johnny Skourtis (Ralphie), Melissa Leo (Susan Plummer), and Bill Pullman (Brian Plummer)
Director: Antoine Fuqua
The Equalizer is supposedly based on the TV series of the same name from the 1980s, but I don’t remember that TV series being as cheerfully violent as this movie. This movie is a loose adaptation, the most obvious deviation being that our hero Robert McCall this time around is American instead of British. Maybe passing off a character played by Denzel Washington as a Brit is too much of a hard sell?
Robert McCall, in this movie, starts out as a man in his forties or so, with even a slight paunch, working at the friendly neighborhood IKEA-like store. He gives piercing death glares at people, has patronizing conversations with overweight colleagues aspiring to get in shape and beaten-up prostitutes, because it’s a cosmic rule that every character played by Denzel Washington has to have some kind of humorless savior complex. Robert strikes up a seemingly casual “I’m so profound… you, a mere mortal, slinks up to me and tentatively asks for wisdom from me” conversations with Teri, the local prostitute who waits for her pimp or her assigned customer at the same eatery as Robert goes to for his dinner-cum-reading sessions. When she shows up in the ICU, he decides to pay her pimp a visit and buy her freedom from the man. The man sneers at him and makes rude jokes about his age, so Robert decides to press the automatic win button on his watch (sponsored by a famous brand who didn’t pay me to name drop it, which is why I’m not naming the brand here), and murders everyone in the room. Fatality!
If the creepy stares and “I’m Steven Seagal after a miracle bariatric surgery” complex hadn’t been giveaway clues before, I now learn that Robert is a former secret agent who has since decided to blend in and stop his walking Mortal Kombat show after promising his late wife to behave and what not. Unfortunately, the pimp had been one of the key players in the local mob scene, controlled by some dude from Russia. The killings are considered by the cops and the media as the result of a gang war, so the Russian dude sends his top assassin, Teddy, over to liaise with the neighborhood corrupt cop Masters and get to the bottom of the matter by any means necessary. Teddy quickly hones in on Robert, and a cat and mouse game between two apparent masters of murderous mayhem is on. It’s hard to tell who the predator and who the prey is, though, because those two men mean serious business.
The Equalizer is so over the top violent and even gory that I can’t help but to be charmed. While Mr Washington playing the same stoic asexual guru character can get pretty old by this time, there is an intriguing contrasting of how unlike a superhero his character looks to the “MacGyver on a murderous rampage” things that he does in this movie. This contrast creates a gimmicky hook that keeps me watching, because the whole thing is fascinating. Robert is pretty cold in this moment. He may side with the good guys and work to help the downtrodden, but he has no compunctions being the executioner as well as the judge and jury to all his targets, and he doesn’t mind sitting beside his target as the villain lays dying, to watch that villain die as he tells the villain that the scumbag should have played nice with him.
The novelty value eventually wears off, as it becomes apparent that, despite his cool posturing, Teddy isn’t anywhere near Robert’s level. Robert is too capable, too cunning, and the sole moment of weakness in this movie feels contrived as a means to show off how the fatty he helped to become a better person has developed an adoring kind of loyalty to him. I can only watch a guy with a small paunch whack people off for so long before I feel bored and wish for a compelling story line to go along with the bloody carnage. The showdown with Teddy is especially disappointing, as the poor guy gets taken down without even a token ten-minute bloody brawl with Robert.
Take away the novelty of Denzel Washington killing people in The Equalizer, and there’s not much left to enjoy here.