I do sit through action movies a fair bit these days wondering who on Earth actually buys into any schmaltzy or ponderous musings the good and/or bad guys may have on their justification for their actions. In The Equalizer, an awful lot of time is devoted to punchy one-liners designed – not for the characters – but purely for the marketing. “What do you see when you look at me?” asks Bob, played by Denzel Washington, to the main Russian bad guy over a glass of wine. I must have missed the answer, but I did think “a franchise?”.
Antonie Fuqua directs Washington once again in traditional tried-and-tested formula ripped straight from Training Day, and imbues the whole affair in a slow-motion, Bacardi Breezer-washed ‘thinking man’s’ version of Death Wish. Now retired from the special forces, Bob works at a Home Depot store, and casually works his way through his late wife’s book collection in a diner. He meets a hooker with a heart of gold, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, who’s clearly being beaten up by her Russian pimps. One night, he smashes their faces in. This precipitates a chain of events that will involve nearly all of Vladivostock and Moscow – yes, both ends of the Russian spectrum – into all-out war with this lone ranger.
I’m not sure how this fits in with the TV series, as I never saw it – but one can scarcely imagine Edward Woodward dispatching his foes with corkscrews, blowtorches and hammers. Denzel does this, and it’s to the man’s credit that he can do it so efficiently and without any trace of irony or nods to the camera. By the end of the film, Denzel will have mowed down countless bad guys in unique and Saw-inspired ways, we begin to question his sanity. If he’s trying to simply kill off bad people, including any tenuous links to a corrupt police force working with said Russians, then wouldn’t a bullet do? It’d be far less brutal and certainly no less economical.
The Equalizer is set in a world where the police force numbers are by the dozen, and each set more corrupt than the last. There are no good policemen around, and this vigilante has to fill in the gaps. Who’s arresting the bad guys; the one Denzel leaves alive? Later on in the picture, it’s simply not enough to have stabbed these people – ‘Zel uncovers corruption of such massive magnitude that any sane person living in a fully functioning economy would simply shut the laptop lid, throw their hands up in the air and resign themselves to unabated apathy. Not ol’ ‘Zel, though. He decides to hunt down the ship container and blow it up, and really send the message out.
And amid all of this, the film has the sheer audacity to pose, on more than one occasion, a question about who were all once were; what we’re capable of, and how we can make life better for others. And it’s all sponsored by Black and Decker.
You know what, though? I really enjoyed the shit out of The Equalizer. It’s that rare occasion that you see a film so brazen in its flimsy, thinly-veiled conceit of violence philanthropy, that you just have to step back and bow down in awe. Denzel, who’s right side of his mouth seems to suggest a recent stroke, spends most of the time staring at… things. The mirror. A corridor. At one point I think he even stares at stairs. He stares people in the eye. The camera snaps in, and misses no beat to frantically fap cinematically to the many beads of sweat, rain and sprinkler system water that manage to slow-mo their way down his beautiful, bald head. Fuqua and Washington direct and act like everyone else on set can’t argue – and somehow, this punitive and overlong tosh works.
It works because – perhaps even, in spite – of its arrogance. It’s Tony Scott-lite, yet Michael Winner put right. It’s Man on Fire with smatterings of Home Alone and the end sequence of Child’s Play 2. And as far as ‘being other things’ is considered, it could have been a damn sight worse – and a damneder sight less entertaining.
Author: Andrew Mackay