Denzel Washington added the action star tag to his repertoire, like Liam Neeson. But, per my experience, Neeson is the one most people rave on about because of his impressive Taken debut. Washington, however, has an enviable track record of action thrillers (Man on Fire, De Ja Vu, Safe House) and the box office numbers to go with it. Neeson isn’t the only actor who went from weighty compelling dramas to butt-kicking. Denzel’s done it too and in better films. But I feel he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. I don’t know why but I just felt I had to get that off my chest.
The thing I love about Denzel Washington in his action roles is the Malcolm X-esque seriousness he attaches to characters without making them memes or caricatures. His latest outing is The Equalizer, based on the 80’s TV series of the same name pairs Washington with director Antoine Fuqua who he worked with for his most enjoyable performance in Training Day.
Washington stars as Bob McCall, a man who favours the Steve Jobs look; complete with the pair of New Balance trainers. He is generally likable and he jokes to his workmates saying he used to be one of Gladys Knight’s backup singers. They count on him for advice and he is even helping one of his young co-workers get in shape for a prospective security job. He gets in on some softball league action and basically, he’s a general stand-up guy by day. At night, we are given an inkling of the real McCall; the man that seems borderline obsessively compulsive, the man who endures sleepless nights and the man who favours his time of silence and solitude reading his collection of books.
In his usual diner, he regularly runs into Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), an underage prostitute. Nothing really happens in the early stages action wise and we spend these moments sizing up McCall and Teri. Their relationship threatens to drift into the uncomfortable territory of Matilda and Leon in The Professional but it isn’t fully realised as Teri is soon out of the picture.
She is given a brutal beating by her Russian pimp and that is enough to spark McCall into action. McCall tracks the Russian gangsters to a restaurant and subsequently takes them out in the first eruption of action and violence that makes the film earn its R rating. McCall has the aptitude to just assess every single detail of a situation and act accordingly, kind of like Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes only this time his adversaries, who seriously underestimate him, end up with corkscrews in the eyes and ruptured jugulars.
He continues to go out of his way to make life difficult for the Russians and their organised crime operations in the city gripped by corruption. It isn’t long before they find their backs to the wall and are forced to pull out an ace. Enter a cruel and sadistic enforcer from the motherland to track down the vigilante costing them so much money. Teddy, they call him, is played with some menacing incisiveness by Marton Csokas and from the moment we lay eyes on him, we immediately begin to relish a potentially massive showdown between the two custodians of death. What follows is a bit of cat and mouse as Teddy tries to outmaneuver McCall, who he does not underestimate like a number before him. A considerable body count is racked up before the quite incredible finale in a hardware store which hearkened back to old-time action thrillers like Hard Target or Under Siege.
The Equalizer plays as an origin story of this ex-government operative turned local vigilante and, but for a few details (like Washington’s gut), it could almost pass for a decent Punisher movie. It has all the violence save for long gunfights which I felt worked out well as along with some good old intimate hand-to-hand action. The action sequences are tastefully done, never gratuitous and never lagging with a brashness that neglects the masses and goes for those who appreciate the more visceral aspects of action films.
It would have been interesting to really see some time given to the exploration of our characters in between McCall’s avenger act. Some distasteful corny moments rear its head and I was tempted to think this was nothing more than a pay cheque for Chloe Grace but there are hints of a sincere connection between McCall and Teri which is not really built on but who am I kidding, I didn’t go into the theatre to watch a heart-to-heart, I paid money to watch Denzel kick ass and he does just that. The box office numbers are already looking good so we may have a new “ruthless old man with special skills” franchise on the cards.