(older movie reviews with a new coat of paint)
“It’s about a guy in night shining armor except he lives in a world where knights don’t exist anymore.”-Robert McCall
Before the movie started, my fellow critic Landon Burris warned me that The Equalizer looked like “diet” Denzel. Thankfully, Mr. Burris was wrong. This movie rocks and it does so on the heels of another commanding performance from Washington, reteaming with his Training Day director, Antoine Fuqua for a simple yet highly enjoyable action experience.
By simple, I don’t mean it settles for cheap thrills or denies the viewer fun. It’s easy on the eyes, keeps the action moving and Denzel elevates any kind of material. He plays Robert, a seemingly nice wise fellow who works at a hardware store, looks out for his fellow employees and likes to go out to his neighborhood diner for hot tea and a book. Robert also can’t sleep and that is due to a past that slowly reveals itself as the 130 minute running time unfolds. This is where Washington excels with these action heroes. He doesn’t try to wax Oscar pathos on a fun action role. He supplies just the right amount of weight to the old lion hanging around the young man’s den.
Watching him work reminded me of Liam Neeson’s character from Taken if he didn’t have the family to supply an extra crutch to the plot. Robert is a loner and he can’t sleep but he also cares and looks out for a young prostitute(Chloe Grace Moretz, adding substance to a thinly written role). When the woman is brutally beaten, Robert goes off like a timebomb. Providing some unexpected laughs and vicious energy in the form of the Russian bad guy is Martin Csokas. Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo show up for a couple scenes, but that’s about it.
Fuqua adds visual flair to action scenes that include sharply choreographed fight scenes, slow motion stop and go, and a dark gritty gray look to the film. While the movie is action packed, Richard Wenk’s script isn’t afraid to slow down and provide some crackling dialogue sessions. Washington and Csokas have a revealing conversation at a restaurant near the end of the film that plays like a pair of predators waiting for the other to blink first. The chat involves the Russian thug’s history, and Washington is so good here. For this scene and a few others, he turns on that dynamic Oscar charm and adds a cold chill to the scene. It’s an expertly crafted scene and executed perfectly, taking a decent action film to a whole other level.
The filmmakers don’t hesitate to remind us that this movie is brought to you by Stallone/Arnold tough 1980’s action throwback cinema classics. The explosions in the background of Denzel, the heartwarming hero moments with the young woman and the rock music that plays over gunplay took me back to a time where every weekend presented a healthy dose of action hero bravado that didn’t ring false.
Denzel doesn’t let anything seem like a gimmick. In scenes where he is overlooking the ocean or staring off in a dark room, glimpses of the man’s past can be imagined without having to see actual flashbacks. We buy into the journey Robert is on because of Denzel. The film breeds off his confidence.
“When someone does something unspeakable to someone you hardly knew, you do something about it because you can.”
That’s the best thing about The Equalizer. It knows exactly what it is and what it wants to do. It’s not overly serious or painfully boring. It’s got a horse in a leading man and rides him to one of the most satisfying action films I have seen all year.
The Equalizer may not be “prime rib” Denzel but it’s still a good slice of cinematic muscle meat.