The Equalizer Movie Review
Neither brimming with powerhouse performances and a gritty, compelling script like Fuqua’s debut collaboration with Washington, Training Day, nor the distinctive, mystical piece that Drive’s Nicolas Winding Refn would have produced, had he stayed on as director of this project, Fuqua’s The Equalizer is still a stomping, stylish action-thriller.Introducing us to the reclusive Robert McCall (the same name that Edward Woodward’s character sported for the original TV series), we find ourselves with an OCD-driven perfectionist who works a low level job in a big DIY chain, getting on well with his colleagues and maintaining a meticulously fine-tuned existence. He follows the same routine, and hangs at the same diner every night, with the same old-beyond-her-years prostitute, Teri. But when she turns up in intensive care, Robert turns into a very different animal, reverting to his shady spec-op training in order to exact justice on the Russian thugs that hurt her. Trouble is, his actions draw the attention of a much bigger kingpin, who sends his most sadistic enforcer to find the mysterious avenging angel and teach him a lesson.Formulaic but fun; scrawny but stylish; bloated but brutal, 2014’s Equalizer has a little something up its sleeve to counter almost every one of its undeniably prevalent shortcomings. It tells a story done countless times before, but it plays out its Man on Fire meets Taxi Driver plot with kinetic action and gleeful violence, making up for the distinct lack of substance through Washington’s undeniable presence and a commitment to frivolously cool vengeance. Fuqua went full-tilt in the stylish action stakes with his guilty pleasure Wahlberg vehicle Shooter, and delivered a satisfyingly vicious counterpart to 2012’s other terrorists-take-over-the-Oval-Office actioner, the fun but tame PG-13 White House Down, with his Gerard Butler-starring Olympus Has Fallen, and his Equalizer has far more in common with those two than it does with his other Washington team-up, Training Day.
The Equalizer goes from TV to the CinemaYou could say that Washington is capable of far more than this, but he’s more than watchable in every single movie that he’s done; a bankable Hollywood star of near Cruise-like proportions, but with much more inherent cool about him, and far fewer scientology issues – and he brings something to even the slightest character design. Here his take on the character made famous by a middle-aged Brit veteran actor is both similar to plenty of others he’s inhabited before, and different at the same time. Sure, he displays his usual unflappable stoicism, but he has a more unusual OCD slant flirting around the edges, and – in spite of the rather obvious Seagal-style black ops past that you know that they are inevitably going to paint him with, the journey to unravelling his past is actually better considered than in most movies of this ilk.
Taking only Woodward's character's name, Washington borrows more from The Punisher or Taken's Bryan Mills, or from his own Man on Fire.The supporting cast are a little bit more of a mixed bag – the generic Russian thugs might as well be wearing the red shirts of the original Star Trek crew, and the bigger players feel a little throwaway as well, with Martin Csokas’s brutal enforcer going into overdrive but sometimes mistaking Bond villain smugness for outright menace (the concept of him playing off against Washington’s anti-hero is a solid one, delivered with some nice face-offs, but ultimately never fully realised); and Kick Ass’s Chloe Grace Moretz does her best Jodie-Foster-from-Taxi-Driver impersonation, but fails to outright become the role. Still, Washington alone makes the whole damn thing worth the price of admission.
See The Equalizer at the Cinema or wait for Blu-ray?Fuqua brings a few new tricks to the table too, although one might argue that they’re old tricks trussed up in new garments. Whilst many have quite naturally assumed this is something of a Man on Fire sequel in all but name (and, to be honest, it's a shame they didn't leave things open to expand that into the franchise that the source books could have easily fuelled), the action beats are less Tony Scott-inspired and more Guy Ritchie derived, actually, with Fuqua giving Washington’s avenger his own slo-mo detect-and-react action-vision. No, it is not original, but it’s undeniably fun to watch, adapting Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes fight sequence dissection to full-on five-on-one close-combat. And if you thought that the trailer gave everything away you’d be mistaken – the trailer is the PG version and, even slightly censored for British audiences, the final cut is still remarkably bloody and satisfyingly brutal, with Washington’s Equalizer exacting the kind of torture-killing that would make The Punisher nod with reluctant approval.
Training Day, this, and now two more films in the making - including a Seven Samurai remake - the Fuqua/Washington team demand your attention.
Classic TV series-to-film adaptations have been almost as popular as reboots of late, and almost equally hit and miss – look at Joe Carnahan’s A-Team, which sits at the opposite end of the spectrum to Cruise’s ever-evolving, ever-entertaining Mission: Impossible franchise – and The Equalizer doesn’t plant both feet securely in either camp, but it does strike out as far more promising than worthy of your dismissal. Action fans will lap up every second of it – or at least sit patiently through the quieter longer moments to get to them – and those looking for something different will enjoy parts of it, especially towards the beginning, but may ultimately be frustrated that this mostly offers more of the same. But Washington and Fuqua still deliver the goods, and deserve credit for sticking to their guns on the rating alone – delivering gut-kicking R-rated thrills in a PG-13-sanitised movie-world. And, when all is said and done, I can’t wait for the already-greenlit sequel to this late summer blast.
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