THE EQUALIZER. Denzel Washington, Martin Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz. Directed by Antoine Fuqua. 132 minutes. Rated MA15+ (Strong violence).
Carried by Denzel Washington’s usual charisma, ‘The Equaliser’ is a brutally violent thriller with decent visual flair and reasonable writing.
The film is based on a television series which ran in the 1980’s, though I was unfamiliar with the show before attending the film. Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is an older man living a simple life – he works during the day at a Home Mart, and spends his evenings reading in his sparse apartment or at a local diner. He is friendly with a young girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), who often frequents the same diner. It is clear that Robert is very particular, and borderline OCD; he follows the same routines daily, such as carefully preparing his tea, and is neurotically neat in all his actions.
One evening, the girl shares more information with Robert – her name is Alina, and she is working as an escort for local Russian gangsters. Moretz is an extremely capable young actress, and here her talents are utilised well – she comes across as far older than her years, and emotionally damaged. When Robert sees Alina being harmed by one of her handlers, he is driven to action. He confronts them at their head office to buy her freedom, and after being laughed at, locks the door and dispatches the five thugs present in a ruthless, violent spectacle. It is clear that Robert has no ordinary past, and indeed was a member of CIA Special Forces until he faked his own demise to get out of the business cleanly. Director of photography Mauro Fiore makes nice use of slow motion and close ups as Robert canvasses potential threats in the room, and he paints McCall’s world lit by orange sunsets and fluorescents, an existence defined by night.
It turns out that the gangsters were no ordinary pimps, but in fact the east hub of the Russian mafia, and psychotic ‘clean-up man’ Teddy (Marton Csokas) is sent over from Russia to uncover what happened and destroy whoever is responsible. Csokas plays Teddy with an icy calm demeanour masking his seething wrath, which bubbles to the surface on more than one occasion. Opposite the dry wit and likability of Washington, the heavily-tattooed, mercurial Csokas creates nice juxtaposition as the antagonist, and their tension elevates the film’s conflict.
As Teddy’s vengeful rampage extends outwards and reaches ever close to our hero, McCall continues to anonymously help people who need it. Once Teddy has McCall in his sights, the film moves towards a final showdown at Robert’s place of work with a DIY-take on the booby-trapped house finale, or as I have described it to a colleague, ‘Home [Mart] Alone’.
It is a typical Denzel Washington vehicle, giving the veteran a chance to crack wise, take down thugs and come off sympathetically because he is ultimately just trying to help. The script from Richard Wenk ticks these boxes systematically, but does it well enough that the audience is kept engaged. With Sony having announced sequel plans prior to release, it is difficult to buy that our hero is ever in danger of not walking away from the final scene alive, but Wenk adds secondary characters that we care about to create a real sense of danger.
The film has at times a problematic semi-fetishisation of violence, but this could be argued of most MA15+ thrillers of today. However, it is the combination of Washington’s congenial hero and said violence which sets it apart, and encourages the audience to revel in his brutality. Anyone who has seen the previews and still sought out the film will not mind, but take this paragraph as a disclaimer of sorts on my part, particularly for those who have not seen any footage of the picture.
A fairly by-the-books star vehicle for Washington, ‘The Equaliser’ delivers what it promises: action, violence, and a number of solid performances. Just don’t see it expecting much more.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out September 25.