He takes down five men from a Russian mob in 28 seconds with his bare knuckles, a knife and a corkscrew. Two cops with guns are on their backs begging for mercy in less than 10 seconds. He’s the equalizer after all. A monosyllabic, meticulous man with a dark past, it’s the kind of multi-layered role we’d come to expect from Denzel Washington who is drawn to dark and dangerous characters.
Based on the television series that aired in the ‘80s, Washington plays Robert McCall, a middle-aged retired intelligence officer who is living a peaceful and solitary existence in Boston. He works at the local Home Mart -- a supplies and hardware store, has no friends, and dines each night at a local diner where he faithfully brings his own tea bag carefully wrapped in a napkin.
There’s a method to his madness and it’s glaringly clear from the first few scenes (something director Antoine Fuqua takes his time in building) that McCall has an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Every day is the same for this mild mannered man for the first half of the movie as it pans from his home, his work, to the diner where he has halfhearted conversations with a young Russian prostitute called Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz). He tells her she has other options, she replies she has none and over time they develop a father/daughter type bond. One night, he discovers Teri has been brutally beaten by a client. Inspired to help, he finds himself the target of a viciously vindictive Russian mafia and becomes a one-man army of vengeance.
The idea of a 60 year-old Denzel taking down men half his age and twice his strength and escaping with barely a cut or a bruise may seem a bit farfetched at first, but Fuqua’s made a gripping, suspenseful, and occasionally exciting drama so it's hard to fault it.
McCall’s the hero we want to get behind for his intentions become the hopes of the viewer, and when he gets the job done, we have every reason to root for him.
Also starring Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo, a married couple from his past, “The Equalizer” is a rousing, furious action-drama. People get stabbed in the throat, the eye socket and the earlobe. They are punched, burnt, blown up and strangled and the film does become extremely violent and torturous, but as the audience, we feel justice is being served. After all, we have seen what the mafia’s hit man, a Russian sociopath called Teddy (Marton Csokas), is capable of. So he rightly deserves a dose of Denzel justice.
While Washington doesn't quite give us a ‘Training Day’ kind of powerhouse performance, he plays McCall with a quiet but angry determination, giving us a character that has absolutely no conscience about torturing someone. As he tells Teddy in one scene (to paraphrase) “I usually don’t do this, but I am making you the exception.”
It’s a slow boil with a stellar cast that’s bound to bring huge box office returns, but it does beg the question; will the sequels have Denzel as its continued star?
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