September 25, 2014

The Equalizer

I have a very particular set of skills ... 
not including my wardrobe.

Grade: B –
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz and David Harbour
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hr. 11 min.

The only reference point today’s film audiences may have to The Equalizer is that it’s the television program that caused Rob Reiner’s character in The Wolf of Wall Street to launch into a profane tirade if anyone interrupted him watching it.

The late ‘80s TV series starring the late Edward Woodward now gets its own big screen treatment from director Antoine Fuqua, who directed Denzel Washington’s Oscar-winning turn in Training Day.Washington reteams with Fuqua in The Equalizer to assume the role of Robert McCall, a meticulous, middle-aged widower who works in a big box home improvement store by day and sits alone in a corner cafe reading classic literature by night.

When a Russian pimp brutalizes Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass), a young hooker harbouring a kind heart and pop star ambitions who hangs out in McCall’s nocturnal diner, McCall reluctantly springs into action … the sort of action that involves slaughtering five members of the Russian mob in under 30 seconds.

That gets the attention of the kingpin back in Mother Russia, who dispatches Teddy (Marton Csokas), his head henchman, to track down the mystery man dispensing with his hired help and disrupting his nefarious business enterprises.

Unfortunately for the Bolshevik baddies, McCall possesses a secret backstory and a very particular set of skills, especially involving the use of power tools and assorted hardware that he employs to starting serving justice on crooked cops and robbers alike.

Indeed, it’s the sort of role Liam Neeson plays nowadays when he’s not busy. And notwithstanding its TV predecessor, Fuqua fashions his Equalizer as a standard vigilante throwback not far removed from Death Wish and Dirty Harry. McCall blows through a cavalcade of Euro-fodder without much in the way of impediments or intrigue. McCall’s one-man-gang upends not only the Russians’ prostitution ring, but also their money laundering hideout and oil tankers.

What equalizes this otherwise formulaic film is the typically captivating Washington, from his quiet counsel to Teri to his taut tête-à-tête with Teddy. Indeed, it’s beguiling to just watch McCall meticulously arrange the silverware at his usual diner table each evening … or stare into his cold eyes as he digs a corkscrew into someone’s mandible or pelts another with a nail gun.

Neither McCall or The Equalizer say very much about our nasty zeitgeist. But all things being equal, there are worse ways to spend a trip to the movie theater … or The Home Depot.