Taking the 1980s’ TV series of the same name as its inspiration, this vigilante thriller contains all the excitement, action and grittiness that audiences would naturally expect but also adds top-class cinematography, a terrific performance by Denzel Washington and a higher level of character development than is generally seen in movies of this type. The end-result is a thoroughly entertaining story of revenge that’s well-paced and features an interesting action hero who’s highly-skilled, haunted by his past and more intelligent than average.
Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a quiet, unassuming man who works at a home improvement warehouse where he carries out his duties conscientiously and is well-liked by his colleagues who appreciate his politeness, good humour and caring nature. He’s meticulous in everything he does and adheres strictly to an unchanging daily routine that always ends with a visit to his local all-night diner where he likes to snack and read books.
It’s at this diner that he meets and befriends Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young prostitute who works (under the name of Teri) for a Russian pimp called Slavi (David Meunier) and has ambitions to be a singer. When she ends up in hospital one night, so brutally beaten that it’s uncertain whether or not she’ll survive, McCall takes matters into his own hands and visits the pimp at his restaurant and offers to pay $9,800 to buy Alina’s freedom. Slavi treats this offer with absolute contempt and McCall, displaying exceptional close combat skills, responds by killing the pimp and his four associates with remarkable speed and efficiency. Russian mob boss Vladimir Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich) presumes that his men have been attacked by rival gangsters and so sends his top enforcer, Teddy Rensen (Marton Csokas) to investigate and deal with the problem.
Rensen’s efficiency is immediately apparent and after he identifies McCall as being responsible for the killings, the two men become involved in a cat-and-mouse game that ends in a violent confrontation at the warehouse where McCall works and where he also shows considerable ingenuity in dealing with Rensen and the other gang-members who’d come there to kill him. McCall then goes on to deal with the threat that he knows Pushkin will continue to provide unless he’s dealt with promptly.
Denzel Washington brings immense dignity and presence to his portrayal of a man whose disciplined routine and personal qualities immediately hint at someone who may have had a military background, even before his skill in dealing with Slavi and his gang is seen. It transpires that he’d actually been a CIA operative who, after experiencing some traumatic event, had escaped from the job by faking his own death and keeping a low profile by living in his current modest lifestyle. His insomnia is a legacy of the trauma he’d experienced and the emptiness that, as a widower, is constantly with him.
“The Equalizer” is a movie that looks absolutely marvellous with most of the action taking place in dark locations that accentuate the downbeat mood of the piece as well as providing the opportunity to create some striking images such as those in which lights are reflected on rainy surfaces or where exquisitely-lit drops of water are seen running down McCall’s head in slow motion. Fans of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” (1942) will also immediately recognise the inspiration for the design of McCall’s favourite diner. This is also a movie that’s very well-made, efficiently directed and cleverly paced to accommodate its considerable amount of character development without ever detracting from the impact of its action sequences.
8 out of 10 stars