Denzel is BACK!!!…even though I’m not sure The Man ever left. With this movie, he re-teams with his ‘Training Day’ director Antoine Fuqua to give us a gritty and updated film adaptation of the late 80’s TV show of the same name. In ‘Training Day’, the two crafted a nasty, conniving shithead in the form of corrupt cop ‘Alonzo Harris’ and Denzel played the hell out of the role, further elevating the already high quality of THAT flick. Here, the two go in the opposite direction on The Scale of Right and Wrong.
Denzel Washington plays ‘Robert McCall’, a charismatic and caring older man making the most of what he has. He works in a Home Depot-like hardware store of epic proportions, and is good at what he does. He is One of The Team and his peers genuinely seem to like him. He innocently flirts with some of the ladies and kindly but firmly encourages and coaches an overweight stock-boy in the concepts of fitness and diet, in order to get the big lug the Security Guard position he’s been coveting. For whatever reason (probably to do with a shady past), ‘McCall’ barely sleeps. He’s often found, in the wee hours of the morning, having tea and reading classic literature at a local all-night diner. When we meet him there, he’s already politely befriended a young (more than likely underage) hooker named ‘Teri’ (Chloe Grace Moretz). As their late-night friendship develops, ‘McCall’ witnesses some unpleasantness put upon ‘Teri’ by her Russian Mob handlers. At first, he ‘turns the other cheek’, but when one indiscretion too many puts her into the ICU, ‘McCall’ strides into action. An encounter with her immediate tormentor results in 5 VERY dead Russian low-life’s (an awesome scene that strongly reminded me of the classic ‘Clarence confronts Drexl’ scene in 1993’s ‘True Romance’); not to mention the ire of the Russian Mafia. Needing answers and actions, the Russkies send ‘Teddy’ (Marton Czokas) over to straighten things out, putting himself on a collision course with ‘McCall’s shadowy past. Teddy is a calculating animal, a viciously competent ‘Answer Man’ who will not hesitate to go to nasty lengths to get the results he and his employer seek.
This movie kicked ass. It’s an unapologetically violent, R-Rated thriller, with a surprising dose of ‘heart’ and a solid cast. A huge part of the ‘heart’ stems from the pleasantly- paced introduction to ‘McCall’s harmlessly mundane life, and from a very good sense of who he is as a ‘man’; despite getting VERY little in the way of specifics about how he got to be where we find him. He has an intelligent dignity and it draws decent people to him.
This is how his relationship with ‘Teri’, who is essentially a good kid with a shitty life, blossoms, as she feels safe and respected in his presence. It just so happens that some of that shitty life decides to follow her…and beat her unconscious.
And then…it’s on!!! ‘McCall’ goes to work…and it’s brutal!! In some respects, the sequences depicting his mental ‘casing’ of a situation prior to getting ‘down n dirty’ were reminiscent of BBC’s ‘Sherlock’, only in this case ‘McCall’ wouldn’t leave off with a cunning retort…no, here he’ll quickly rip your eye out with a shot glass, or introduce a Black and Decker large-bore drill to the back of your head, or quietly slip a loop of weighted razor wire around your exposed neck. That’s just some of the ‘Holy shit!’ he dispenses onto the mobsters, goons, corrupt cops, Mafia chieftains and other assorted pieces of human garbage that populate this flick. I loved his trait of timing the justice he dispenses on his watch, as though always pushing to improve…even while on ‘the job’.
The Style of the movie is VERY sweet, often reminding me of the late, great Tony Scott (‘Enemy of the State’) in the compositions, lighting and editing. The ambiance also reminded me of ‘Se7en’ (1995) at times, as the production design clearly went for a gritty, lived-in aesthetic. It was an ugly world in which ‘McCall’ had to do ugly things.
The Story is refreshingly straight forward. When broken down to its base parts, there’s not a lot going on that we haven’t seen before. I mean, ‘McCall’ is, in many ways, reminiscent of two characters Denzel played in a couple of Tony Scott thrillers: ‘Commander Hunter’ in ‘Crimson Tide’ (1995), with his quiet intelligence and clear moral compass, and ‘Creasy’ in ‘Man on Fire’ (2004), with the keen sense of operational cunning and lethal discipline. Mash those two together and you basically have the blueprint for Denzel’s version of ‘Robert McCall’.
Now I’ve never seen the 1980’s television version of this character so I can’t make a judgement as to how close they kept things, but if I had to go with my gut, I’d say that a lot was altered to bring the character into the ‘Now’ and to help make the character Denzel’s own. I think he succeeded, and I’d be curious to see what a sequel would give us.
The Music is great, perfectly tailored for the often grim and exciting visuals. I hate to do it, but I have to mention Tony Scott again, as the score by frequent Scott collaborator Harry Gregson-Williams was pitch perfect and reminded me of several of Scott’s other films, especially ‘Spy Game’ (2001), for some reason.
Continuing with the theme of sound, I have to give props to the Sound and Foley departments. The attention to small, incidental sounds in every scene had me acutely aware of little noises that were occurring as I walked to my car: the faint jingling of my keys, my footsteps echoing around the concrete parkade, the small squeak of my shocks as I got in etc. I love when a film’s sound design has an effect on my mental process after the credits have rolled.
All in all, ‘The Equalizer’ is a well-crafted and entertaining movie that is aimed squarely and deservedly at adults. More than once, I laughed out loud at the insane lengths ‘McCall’ went to in order to dispense nasty, quick justice on the assholes that had it coming. There’s times when his methods are more in keeping with some 80’s slasher flick than some 21st Century Punisher-type character. It was great. I very much recommend this one and I hope that it does well enough to warrant the sequel that was rumored to have been green-lit by Sony while it was in it’s ‘test audience’ phase. A trilogy of ‘The Equalizer’ flicks (if handled like THIS one ), would be a cool addition to Denzel Washington’s already impressive filmography. So check it out!!
“Sometimes it takes a wrong turn to get you to the right place.”