I’ve been looking forward to The Equalizer for some time. The first trailer I sat down and watched featured a cool new Eminem song, Denzel Washington acting like a vengeful badass again, and couldn’t stop boasting how it’s from the director of Training Day, Antoine Fuqua. Figured that should’ve been a red flag.
Although Fuqua’s direction on Training Day was good, it was a great film because it had a good team behind it. Take away that team and you’ll find the rest of Fuqua’s career: King Arthur, Shooter, and Olympus Has Fallen. But hey, he’s finally reunited with Denzel Washington! Washington is a powerhouse, so of course they’d bring their A game, right?
With how much Washington leisurely strolls from place to place in The Equalizer, it’s a shame he never gets anywhere.
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Release Date: September 26, 2014
A spiritual successor/reboot of 1980’s television series, The Equalizer is the story of Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), a man who works in a hardware store with a mysterious past. every night he stops by a diner and talks to Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a strange girl who actually works in a Russian sex ring. When she’s sent to the infirmary one day, Robert reveals he’s a trained killer and eventually goes to war with the entire Russian mafia before the film is done.
With a synopsis like that, I was expecting a rip roaring good time. And for the most part, Equalizer delivers that action. When McCall kills folks, the choreography is smooth, the scenes are mapped out in interesting ways, and he usually brings a brutality you wouldn’t expect at first. There’s a nice juxtaposition between McCall’s sleek professionalism (he times himself and keeps his movements to a minimum) and the aggressively violent ways he takes his enemies down. Washington plays this up well by hardly changing his expression during these scenes too. You’d think watching a stonefaced gentleman strike folks down would be boring after awhile, but there’s a nice fun mined from all of it. When there’s action happening, Equalizer is gripping. Too bad you really feel an absence when the action comes to a halt.
As almost representative of the larger pacing problem at hand, McCall walks everywhere. He walks through hallways, he walks up stairs, he strolls through streets, he walks, and walks, and walks. While it might seem weird to point out how much a character walks, it’s always used as a way to pad out the film. There’s no sense of immediacy when McCall’s stoic nature goes from calm and cool to lackadaisical. And the lackadaisical main character turns the rest of the film to gelatin.. The Equalizer never seems to have a goal in mind. With random scenes given to flesh out the caricature of a main villain (with a transition so excruciatingly overwrought it feels like ten minutes before it’s over), a non-sequitor at Bill Pullman’s house, and speeches galore, Equalizer forgets it’s a film with a strict deadline. I mean, McCall even takes a bus to an action scene at one point.
Equalizer seems like it could’ve been a great film had it not taken so long to figure out what it exactly wanted to do. Denzel Washington is fabulous, and I would’ve loved a full version of his scenes at the hardware store (especially since it leads to a uniquely mapped finale), but the film chooses to highlight everyone else but Washington. For example, the main villain gets far too much screen time. It’d be fine if there were some actual developments for the character and he became more than a cardboard cutout of a Russian guy, but nothing changes. It’s a shame too because Washington seems to really enjoy his time as McCall (as his playful badassness seeps out every now and again) but you don’t get much from him other than seeing him casually stroll places or sit down when he’s not killing folks.
To sum it all up, there’s a single scene that captures my views on The Equalizer perfectly. At one point, McCall blows up a thing and then cooly walks away. The scene itself is one of the coolest “men don’t look at explosions” I’ve seen this year, but it wears out its welcome fast. It’s hyper stylized to the point where the slow motion is grating, and Washington walking without urgency is likeable for a brief moment before you realize how dumb the whole thing is. And the icing on the cake is how seriously the film takes this scene. It’s just a complete tonal mess.
The Equalizer is like walking your grandfather through the park. It seemed like a good idea at first, and you’ll enjoy seeing him, but it feels like a chore as the hours roll on.