The Equalizer (2014) Review

The last time Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua collaborated in 2001’s Training Day, that acclaimed movie won Washington a much-deserved Best Actor Oscar for his memorable role as the corrupted Detective Alonzo Harris. Thirteen years later, they return with their highly-anticipated reunion in a big-screen adaptation of 1985-89 popular TV series, The Equalizer, which is previously played by the late Edward Woodward. Die-hard fans of the original TV series might complain about some of the glaring changes (such as the obvious different races from white to African-American actor) while this big-screen version only retained the original character’s name (Robert McCall) and his special set of skills.

In this movie, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is depicted as an ordinary citizen who lives alone in an apartment and works as a sales associate at a Home Depot-style hardware superstore. He likes to help people and spends every night reading a classic novel at a nearby cafe. He also befriended a teenage prostitute named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), who often frequents at the same cafe. Then one day, he discovers Teri is brutally beaten by her Russian pimp, Slavi (David Meunier) and decides to avenge her. After single-handedly killed Slavi and the rest of his men, he subsequently becomes the target of the Russian mob, supervised by a ruthless enforcer named Teddy (Marton Csokas).

Compared to his past movies like Training Day or last year’s Olympus Has Fallen, Antoine Fuqua made a radical departure for approaching The Equalizer in a more subdued direction than usual. He doesn’t succeed entirely, but still admirable for building up the tension and characters development. When the bloodshed finally arrived, Fuqua doesn’t skimp on the violence. Instead, he ensures that the action is as brutal and graphically violent as they get, particularly the way McCall dispatching the villains using common items such as a book, barbed wire, power drill, broken glass and nail gun.

After playing a vigilante character successfully in 2004’s Man on Fire, Denzel Washington returns to the familiar territory for the second time with another like-minded role as Robert McCall. Here, Denzel Washington displays a coolly charismatic, yet engaging performance who can alternate between a kind-hearted person who likes to help people and a violent individual who doesn’t bat an eye when he needs to hurt or kill someone.

Chloe Grace Moretz provides a strong support as the sympathetic teenage prostitute Teri, while Marton Csokas makes a perfect foil to Washington’s Robert McCall character as the brutal and menacing Teddy. The rest of the supporting actors are equally competent, including David Harbour as the corrupted cop Masters and Johnny Skourtis as Robert’s overweight co-worker, Ralphie.

While I don’t mind if a movie is slow-moving in favour for the character(s) and story buildup as long as the payoff is good enough. But it’s a pity that director Antoine Fuqua and screenwriter Richard Wenk drags the plot too much throughout its ponderous 131-minute running time. Even the so-called payoff during the extended climax at the Home Depot-style hardware superstore is a letdown. Although it contains some creatively violent set-pieces involving the usage of hardware tools, Mauro Fiore’s dimly-lit cinematography and John Refoua’s frenzied editing often spoil the excitement and made the action difficult to watch most of the time.

The disappointment continues with the showdown between Robert and Teddy. Given the fact that Teddy is depicted as a skilled enforcer and a heartless character who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, I was expecting more from him, at least something like hand-to-hand combat against McCall. Unfortunately, Fuqua seems to lose patience for elaborating the scene any further and prefers to wrap things up as quickly as possible. This also goes to the underwhelming and lazily constructed set-piece during the Moscow-set finale.

For all the hype surrounding the reunion between Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua as well as its potentially exciting premise, The Equalizer is an uneven action thriller that could have been better.

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