Film review: THE EQUALIZER

The Equalizer is yet another film which revels in a mass-murdering vigilante’s psychopathic behaviour then tries to justify that behaviour by giving it a patina of paternalistic righteousness and by suggesting it’s all necessary to clean up the mean streets.  In other words it’s offensive right-wing clap trap.

Based loosely on the 1980’s TV show which starred Edward Woodward as a shadowy former soldier who stepped in to save the little guy from assorted villains, this film sees ex-special ops commando Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) lead a one man war against  the Russian mob.  Having apparently left his secret agent life behind him, McCall now pushes trolleys around a giant hardware store and spends his evenings reading classic novels at the very sparsely attended local diner. When evil non-Americans hurt young prostitute Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) whom McCall has befriended, McCall is sparked into violent vengeful action. The film follows the Taken trajectory as McCall transforms from a seemingly average, if strangely solitary middle-aged guy, into a relentless and brutal killing machine.  With the bodies piling up, the Russians send in their weirdest and most vicious killer, former Spetznatz commando Nicolai (a scenery-chomping Marton Csokas) to hunt McCall.

As it transforms into a tiresomely predictable series of killings this film recalls repugnant 80’s video nasties such as The Exterminator although admittedly McCall’s deadly use of hardware products such as an electric drill and a nail gun border on the comical.

The film indulges just about every action movie cliché with the seemingly indestructible hero annihilating his foes with ridiculous ease, the incompetent bad guys failing to shoot straight despite long criminal histories and military backgrounds and at one point, Denzel strolling away from an explosion in slow motion.  All of this would have been funny if the film had been a deliberate parody but it’s done with a straight face.

The film tries to locate Denzel’s character somewhere between Liam Neeson’s unstoppable sadist in Taken and Morgan Freeman’s wise, old emotionally cold loner in Seven.  He even lives in austere apartment, adheres to a rigid set of personal rituals and seeks solace in literature just like Freeman’s despondent detective. While Denzel is a fine actor and usually a charismatic screen presence, the dour humourless driller killer he plays here is just unlikeable. The film attempts to make McCall more sympathetic by having him take various wayward people, including Teri, under his wing but this just becomes laughable when we see him ram a corkscrew into a hapless goon’s face or impale a person through the neck with garden shears. His nemesis Nicolai is, despite being a sadistic pervert, a more interesting and likeable chap than McCall. 

As in so many Steven Segal films it’s almost impossible to get behind the alleged hero or feel excited by anything he does, so the film fails as an action movie.  It’s not enough to have a lot of killings and explosions there has to be some sort of human connection as there was with Bruce Willis in the original Die Hard or there needs to be at least  a remotely acceptable context for the killings such as the espionage fantasy world of James Bond, there’s no such justification in  The Equalizer.  Matters aren’t helped by the fact that the final confrontation to which the whole film seems to be leading is an absolute fizzer. The only vaguely interesting action segment is a fight scene in which Denzel appears to cop a minor beating but even this segment is tarnished by the fact that it’s filmed in near darkness with the bald-headed Denzel fighting another chrome-dome so it’s almost  impossible to tell who’s belting who.

To his credit, director Anton Fuqua (who helmed the impressively gruelling Training Day and hilariously stupid Olympus Has Fallen) does fashion a slick and stylish look and creates a couple of tense and atmospheric scenes but this in no way compensates for the film’s empty-headed plot and appallingly misguided morality.

For some movie fans the high body count and baroque killing methods will be enough for a night of dubious popcorn entertainment but for anyone who values good action cinema The Equalizer is insulting rubbish.

Nick’s rating: *

Genre: Action.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Antoine Fuqua.

Release date: 25th Sept 2014

Running time: 131 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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