Antoine Fuqua's big screen adaptation of the 80′s TV series The Equalizer opens with an impressive tracking shot through an open window, and into the orderly and near empty apartment, belonging to Robert McCall (Denzel Washington). McCall lives a Spartan existence; for the first twenty minutes of the picture, he hardly says a word. Fuqua (Training Day) gives a lengthy shot as you watch McCall fold something delicately into a napkin. When you see him unfold the napkin at his regular diner, and place the teabag into a cup of hot water, you understand immediately that this man is a creature of habit, firmly set in his ways. Every night he's there, reading a book. He's such a regular, that he strikes up a familiar acquaintance in a young teenage prostitute, Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz)), which eventually grows into something of a friendship. There is something undeniably hidden within him, however. When he realizes the danger Teri is in thanks to her nefarious Russian pimps, he forgoes his cautious life, and willingly brings on the pain.
Director Fuqua accordingly really brings on the style for these sequences. His relative quiet touches give way to mayhem. Before every murder McCall commits, the camera slows down, taking on a golden hue, and you literally see McCall breaking down every element of his victims: tattoos, facial expressions. And then he lets loose: even timing himself to see if he can voice dispatch Mafiosi in 30 seconds or less.
And The Equalizer is undeniably fun. It's one of those thrillers that begins moody and atmospheric, and then decides it would be more fun to see how many people can be dispatched with nail guns or corkscrew openers; and it is similarly unconcerned with logic in the idea that McCall decides to take down the entire East Coast hub of the Russian mafia, simply over one teenage prostitute. But with Fuqua this stylistically assured, and Washington equally game, does it really matter?
As Teri, Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick Ass, Carrie) forgoes the sarcastic strategy Jodie Foster used as a teenage hooker in Scorsese's Taxi Driver. Teri is arguably much more frightened of her violent handlers, and is less given to false bravado as result. And even though her character really amounts to little more than a glorified supporting part after she is sent away, she is a great deal of fun to watch, and she holds her own more than capably against Denzel Washington (The Book Of Eli). The habit of extended cameos in The Equalizer is even more extreme in the case of Melissa Leo as Robert's former CIA contact, who pops up to give a vital piece of information on the evil mobster, and to tentatively tiptoe around the subject of his wife, while offering a small measure of comfort. The bit part parade reaches "blink-and-you-miss him" cameo status, by casting a reputable star like Bill Pullman as Leo's husband, and giving him no more than four lines (though of course it's possible that this may be a larger part that met with cuts in the editing room).
If anything, a weakness of The Equalizer is that McCall's troubled personal life is left as somewhat ambiguous. Who can blame it really? The opening aims for a quiet kind of profundity, and it succeeds, but isn't really interested in following through. For all its thin characterization, there is something just as nice in watching Denzel Washington coldly and calculatingly firing a nail gun in righteous vengeance.
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