<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Starring Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, David Meunier, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Haley Bennett
Vigilante human heroes are back with a vengeance and it’s a welcome change from all those masked and caped buffoons that have been invading our cinemas lately.
It’s interesting for me having watched the intensely frenetic and enjoyable John Wick last week to see another film with a solo brooding hero that meticulously and violently takes out the bad guys. It gives you a sort of voyeuristic pleasure to watch these lone human ‘superheroes’ making short shrift of dozens of baddies in their crack at vigilante justice.
While the Keanu Reeves thriller John Wick was fast paced and slick, Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer is steady, almost slow paced but packing just as much intensity. They’re polar opposites but still work so well.
The Equalizer was an 80s American TV show that had Brit actor Edward Woodward playing the role of Robert McCall, a man with a past who would set out to help the underdog, the helpless, the powerless and give them a chance against seemingly overwhelming odds. The show’s familiar and catchy opening title theme as well as Woodward’s subdued but deep performance made it a hit and it ran for four seasons. This new ‘remake’ of the serial isn’t totally true to its source material but with Hollywood we’ve come to expect rehashes and remakes now so let’s not complain too much.
Denzel’s Robert McCall is a man of routine who is meticulous and precise. He obviously has OCD and is nursing some heartbreak over his lost wife and perhaps a lost past. He reads at a coffee shop at 2 in the night with a cup of tea – he brings his own tea bag nicely wrapped in tissue to the 24-hour café – and the company of Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz). Teri is a prostitute, working for a Russian escort service, who wants to be a singer someday and she finds comfort in chatting with a father figure like Robert. Then one day she’s beaten almost to death by one of her clients.
And then Robert – the calm and calculating almost sedate benefactor of his employees at the Home Depot-style warehouse and wise man at the café – steps ever so gently out of his demure persona into a lean, mean killing machine to avenge her! Of course the Russian mafia want to know who he is and try to take him out, which leads to a chase and the piling up of plenty of bad guy bodies.
The seriousness and darkness portrayed in just simple actions and voices is immense. Even the bad guy Teddy (Marton Csokas) is restrained evil. There’s a strange calmness about some of the violent action scenes which is amplified by the almost Sherlock Holmes (with Robert Downey Jr) style of scenes where Robert McCall eyes his opponents and analyses in his mind how he will subdue him and with what. But unlike the Holmes films, The Equalizer doesn’t show you the whole scene in the character’s mind’s eye before it actually plays out, which is far more suspenseful and effective.
Like Keanu in John Wick, Denzel has very little to say – even though he’s probably far more capable of utilising dialogue than the Matrix star. Both actors though have excellent scripts and directors that let actions speak louder than words while also letting the characters have some charm and wit about them.
Sure the director and writers have left a lot of background out of this film, like what exactly was Robert’s CIA past and why he becomes the way he does. But that could work out well in a sequel.
In a world filled with multiple Marvel superheroes flying around and pounding non-descript aliens, it is a breath of fresh air to watch the solo hero – and the menacing villain – make a comeback. We all miss the good ol’ times of just Bruce Willis or Arnie taking on the whole badass world and saving the day. And maybe what the world needs is these lone vigilantes who are real and could make a difference. We’re holding out for a hero and thankfully Hollywood is sorta giving him to us.