If you’d never seen a movie before, you’d be forgiven for thinking The Equalizer is a stylish action thriller with a bit of weight at its core. But you have seen movies before and, more particularly, you’ve seen this movie a hundred times. Sadly the only weight here is Denzel Washington‘s self-professed “Buck 90” frame and with it his trademark and irrefutable screen presence. He is a heavyweight in the film game for good reason: he’s extremely watchable and rather good at that acting thing, filling the screen and captivating your attention with his effortless yet considerable charisma.
This outing for DW, however, is a real cliché-chomping genre monster. It’s a mosaic of unoriginality: archetypal characters, regurgitated plot, appalling dialogue? Check one, two and three. It’s not without merit, as cinematographer and director partnership Mario Fiore and Antoine Fuqua, respectively, try to carve out the same sense of style and swagger they dished up in 2001’s Training Day. The result, however, is a badly defaced effigy rather than the monument of mass entertainment they were hoping for.
Robert McCall (Washington) is fastidious in his attention to detail, this much we are shown at great length during the opening scenes, but after that we don’t really learn anything more about him. The morality stretches only as far as showing he is a ‘good’ man who hates to see injustice done to other ‘good’ people. Although we subsequently learn he apparently worked for the US government in some top secret capacity and is clearly a walking killing machine. But he likes to read Hemingway, so he must be OK! There is some very vague characterisation in there, the apparent black cloud that hangs over him is his deceased wife, but it never really gets the chance or time to ferment, leaving The Equalizer somewhere between Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey and Eastwood’s legendary Man With No Name. But never quite either.
It’s not devoid of some fun moments; Denzel times himself on his wristwatch with as much diligence when doing the washing up as when dispatching a room full of bad guys, and you do find yourself rooting for him. This is more down to Washington’s considerable persona than anything to do with the filmmaking. Chloe Grace Moretz does what she can with her damsel-in-distress-with-attitude character Teri; she’s clearly a star for the future but doesn’t have enough to work with here. Glimpses of the Lolita-esque relationship between her and McCall are all we get, sadly never materialising into anything more, leaving just another narrative loose end untied.
The scenes of extreme and graphic violence raise questions of their own: in a world where real horror is increasingly enveloping us (just switch on the news), are we really craving titillation from grossly violent acts on our silver screen? Depth of character, plot, originality; these are the things we should both expect and demand from our modern filmmaker’s. Not recycled easy entertainment garnered through the glorification of explicit and gratuitous violence like this.
If you’ve seen Man On Fire, Payback or even Taken, you’ve seen a better film.