Rooting for a badass hero with a kickass attitude has never been as satisfying as watching Denzel Washington dish out some brutal punishment. This is exactly what you get in The Equalizer, an action thriller based on the late 80's TV series of the same name, but amped up with ultra-violent realism.
Reunited after their collaboration in Training Day, Washington (received his first Academy Award in a leading role) and director Antoine Fuqua are back in this simple yet deadly effective action film. Using a Mark Twain quote about people who find their true purpose late in life, Washington plays Robert McCall, a loner and tragic widower with a mysterious past. On the surface, he is an amiable home depot worker who keeps to himself, indulging in conversations only when spoken too, and slave to some sort of OCD while remaining invisible to people around him. After befriending a Russian teen escort called Alina, (Chloe Grace Moretz all grownup), and discovering she is the victim of sexual abuse, McCall's nice-guy demeanor melts away to expose an aura reverberating layers of darkening complexity. There's a tightly restrained compassion in McCall's eyes, fighting a father-figure compulsion to do what he must, while Alina's is a muted plea for deliverance. This scene takes place in a diner they frequent in Boston, and it's the first of two powerful moments in the film. What follows is the film's first action sequence in a Tarantino-styled dialogue first, and blood splatter later, McCall dispatches Alina's Russian pimp and his goons. When news reaches Moscow, mob kingpin Pushkin sends Teddy (Marton Csokas), to clean up the mess. Covered with satanic tattoos, Teddy is anything but the moniker he goes by and with half the Boston PD on his payroll, it's just a matter of when and where McCall is eliminated. Or so they think.
Having previously scripted The Expendables 2, Richard Wenk's story here is nothing new when considering McCall's proverbial 'set of skills', a comparison if you must, to certain characters Liam Neeson has played. On the other hand, there is a mechanism in place, partly due to the aforementioned OCD, allowing McCall a brief study of the situation before striking with lethal accuracy. While that sounds like a knock-off version of combat tactics employed by Guy Ritchie's titular hero in Sherlock Homes (2009), the payoff is watching McCall take out bad guys with improvised weaponry. It gets a bit hokey towards the end, with McCall using all manner of booby traps to slice, dice and blow up Teddy's dumber-by-the-minute henchmen. Having said that, it is still rewarding to watch Washington demolish enemy after enemy and this is largely due to Csokas' terrific portrayal of Teddy's loathsome nature. To that effect, the best scenes in the film are when Teddy and McCall are face-to-face and denting each other's armour with nothing but well written dialogues. One such scene is a powerful dinner table battering-of-wits, a taut reimagining of that iconic scene in Heat (1995).
While humour and drama throw some light on Boston's mob controlled dirty cops, McCall's relationships with his colleagues, and even a short segment that suggests his origins as a trained killer, The Equalizer really shines with Fuqua's deft handling of action scenes. But topping it off is Washington in a vigilante role that is the best we've seen in years. Fans of Man on Fire (Washington opposite Dakota Fanning) and Léon: The Professional (Jean Reno opposite Natalie Portman), both films about male heroism influenced by female protégés, are in for a visual treat. Heck, who needs improbable superheroes when you have an average Joe with extraordinary capabilities and all without hiding behind a mask or costume? Although compelled to use the N-word, I'll just say – Ma man Denzel. . .doesn't disappoint and neither does The Equalizer.
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