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The Equalizer (2014)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Denzel Washington, Martin Czokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Haley Bennett

Written By: Richard Wenk Directed By: Antoine Fuqua

The Short Version

Suddenly, a 1980s television series adaptation appears!

On the one hand, there’s a major “slow burn” feel to this flick, but...

If you ever wanted to see how Denzel Washington would play Jason Voorhees, here you go.

There are more than a few things to make you go “hmm,” but the good stuff outweighs them.

If you’re up for a dark, deliberate, and often brutal take of the vigilante genre, The Equalizer is for you.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Harder than you might expect, and it’s got some holes in it, but it’s still good stuff.

Pairs Well With...


Something Russian mixed with a dark red liquid.  Sounds about right.

“He’s a sociopath with a business card.”

I walked into The Equalizer expecting a  “cleaned up” vigilante action flick: something where the gallant hero saves the in-over-her-head damsel in distress from nasty bad guys with a measure of violence that would satisfy the cravings of action fans without going over the top in any category.  In short, I expected a mediocre formula flick vaulted into the “good” category thanks to the strength of its star.

What I actually saw was a very good action/slasher hybrid – yes, I said slasher – made even better (and more shocking) by the strength of its star.

The Equalizer follows Robert McCall (Denzel Washington, Safe House), a quiet, bookish, helpful guy who works the floor at A Home Improvement Warehouse That Is Definitely Not Home Depot.  He goes to the same café every night, and there develops a casual, conversational friendship with a young lady (Chloe Grace Moretz, Carrie), who “works nights” for an escort service.  But when her pimp (David Meunier, The Incredible Hulk) beats her up so severely that she ends up in the hospital, Robert doesn’t feel like being quiet anymore.  And so he takes a ride down to a certain posh Russian restaurant and decides to declare war on the entire Russian mafia.

Makes you wonder what Robert used to do for a living, doesn’t it?

If you have fair knowledge or memory of television from the 1980s, you already know the answer.  The Equalizer is based on the television series of the same name, which starred Edward Woodward as McCall, a government operative who’d “left the game” and turned his, shall we say, particular set of skills toward helping unfortunate people in over their heads.  Not a bad premise, really, and one that definitely lends itself to a modern day motion picture reboot, but if you’re basing your expectations on what came before (like I was)… well aren’t you just in for a shock.

The Equalizer plays very much on the “slow burn” theory of character development.  This flick takes a lot of time establishing its players (to the point where some audiences spoiled by short attention spans might grow impatient with the amount of time that passes before the action starts), and then takes even more time to run psychological profiles on them as the story goes on.  (The profile approach is an important distinction to make, for very little time is taken exploring any more backstory than is explicitly necessary to move things along.  It’s not a bad approach, really, and it prevents the film from belaboring the details McCall’s past, which are still vague beyond the broadest of strokes when all is said and done.)  This makes the audience much more invested in the movie’s major characters – either liking them or hating them – which in turn makes the action payoffs all the more satisfying when they happen. 

One could argue that the hate building sequences regarding McCall’s opposite number, Teddy (Martin Czokas, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), are numerous enough to be considered selling past the close, but they do work none the less.  (As do those moments that may trip the “suspension of disbelief” switch; the good stuff overpowers the few seconds of head scratching.)

And when the time comes for violence to do the talking…

I knew going in that The Equalizer carried an ‘R’ rating, but I was none the less expecting it to be a very soft ‘R.’  After all, it’s Denzel, right?  Ha!  Washington’s McCall is violent in ways that would make Liam Neeson’s tough guys flinch, and Czokas’ Russian psycho is happy to play along.  With few exceptions, the kills in this flick aren’t “action movie” kills; there are uncensored slasher movie kills.  A corkscrew through the bottom of the jaw, the tip visible inside the victim’s mouth as it’s being twisted.  A shot glass being used to take out a man’s eye socket.  A barbed wire noose.  Tree trimming shears used as a spear to the throat.  You ever wonder how it might look if Denzel Washington suddenly decided to try his hand at playing Jason Voorhees?  Here you go.  These deaths are nasty and bloody and the camera loves to linger on them; indeed, the audience even gets slow motion/still shot flashbacks to a few.  The story may burn slowly, but the action switch is thrown, the heat is intense.

Gratuitous?  That’s a judgment call here.  I can see some people making it, but for me, the violence fits the characters being presented; indeed, McCall’s own attitude toward it is one of the film’s important points.  Comic book fans may liken it to “Hulking out” – he doesn’t necessarily like the violent man he becomes, but he knows it’s his nature, and sometimes, bad things need to be done to achieve good ends.

Speaking of which, The Equalizer presents yet another surprise with regard to how its hero’s quest plays out.  It would have been so easy and indeed expected to make this a straight up “damsel in distress” actioner, but the “damsel” disappears from view after the First Act, and the though she remains important as the catalyst, the story becomes something else.  It’s a refreshing break from formula, and it helps keeps things interesting during the slower portions of the slow burn. 

And even with all of its ultra violence, The Equalizer also wins points for progressivism.  First and most obvious, how often does one see the story of a silver haired white man officially rebooted with a black man taking over the lead, and without the script harping on the fact that it was done?  Score one for completely color blind casting.  And then there’s our catalyst character: a hooker with a heart of gold, to be sure, but not the Hollywood stereotype of such.  This character is presented as a real human being with real thoughts and real feelings who may be in over her head, but who isn’t stupid.  She’s a person, not an object or a cardboard cutout, and the kind of treatment of a sex worker by a Hollywood screenplay in unusual enough o stand out, and to be worth applauding.  (Bonus points for an absence of rape and for an absence of turning her relationship with the hero into a romantic or sexual one of any kind.)

Bottom line, The Equalizer is a movie full of surprises, from its slow burn storytelling to is slasher-level violence to its progressive approach to characters.  Its departure from formula may be enough to turn some people off, but if you’re in the mood for something different and don’t mind some very explicit kills, The Equalizer is certainly worth your time.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2014

More From The Bar! | Death Wish | The November Man | The Last Stand | Hitman |

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