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Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Equalizer

Denzel Washington is back in a very Denzel Washington-y kinda movie. Take that as you will...

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) seems like an ordinary blue-collar worker but when a young prostitute (Chloe Grace-Moretz) he befriended is viciously beaten up, his mysterious past comes to the fore as he finds himself up against a ruthless organized crime ring.

What we thought

Antoine Fuqua is a director who spends his time alternating between grity and quite serious dramas (Training Day, Tears of the Sun) and disposable action movies (Olympus Has Fallen, Shooter) and despite the fact that his last film was the underwhelming shoot-em-up Olympus Has Fallen, it's interesting to see him diving so soon into another glorified b-movie – especially as he has brought along Denzel Washington, the star of his most acclaimed film, along for the ride.

The Equalizer is apparently based on an '80s TV show (nope, me neither) but its mixture of quite bloody violence and stylized visuals means that it is presumably only tangentially related to its source. What it is, really, is something we've seen about a thousand times before, in everything from its basic story to its almost superhuman “regular Joe” protagonist to most of its action scenes, but is still quite a bit better than it has any right to be.

Part of it, of course, is that Fuqua is a stylish director and he has simply never been more stylish than he is here and that he is smart enough to know that if you're going to make a silly b-movie, you really have to fully commit to it for it to have a chance in hell of working. It's something that hasn't fully been realised in some of his more boring previous films (Olympus Has Fallen, especially) but that commitment to trash is on full display here.

The Equalizer is, in no uncertain terms, an incredibly silly, even stupid film but is one that revels in its own daftness, as it is entirely unapologetic about its pro-vigilantalism message and in its commitment to show its supposedly ordinary protagonist as someone who could easily take down Batman, let alone John McClane. While most action heroes these days barely make it out of their life-threatening situations with all their teeth in tact, Robert McCall can take down swarms of highly trained bad guys, while suffering at most a small cut or two.

Almost unarguably, the film would collapse under its own preposterousness, not to mention its absurdly bloated running time (b-movies should not be 130 minutes long, under any circumstance) had it not had, at its centre, one of the best leading men in the business. Denzel Wasington is a brilliant actor who is unquestionably slumming it here but his ability to switch between cool charisma and cooler intensity anchors the film and prevents it from flying entirely off the rails.

He is given some nice support by Chloe Grace-Moretz and Marton Csokas (who basically spends the entire movie doing a Kevin Spacey impression with a Russian accent) and respected veterans Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo even show up for a couple of minutes but this is clearly Mr Washington's film all the way. The Equalizer could perhaps have worked with someone Jason Statham in the lead but not without alternating its energy considerably. As it is, while plenty of credit has to go to its director, it's undoubtedly true that without Washington, this is one fairly po-faced b-movie that would have crashed and burned before even getting out of the gate.

As it is, The Equalizer is a stylish and largely very enjoyable slice of extremely silly trash-cinema that is damaged most by its ludicrous running time (seriously, 130 minutes!) and unfortunate lack of much needed wit in its dialogue. It's easily skippable, basically, but should more than please action junkies who feel that their favourite genre has been under-served of late.

1 comment:

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