Thursday, October 16, 2014

"The Equalizer" Review: Denzel Washington Brings The Pain To This Otherwise By The Numbers Vigilante Story


Thirteen years ago director and teamed up for a rather unassuming little film about a corrupt cop trying to flip a rookie during his first day on the job. That film, as you may have guessed, was Training Day. For Fuqua it was the blockbuster hit that would later define his entire career but for Washington, an actor who up until that point played it mostly safe with a stable of strong but ultimately likable roles, it was a career changing revelation which even nabbed him his first best actor Oscar win.

Now both the actor and director have reunited for the first time since their only other collaboration together for the new film The Equalizer, a remake of an old and somewhat obscure 80's television show. While it isn't any surprise that both Fuqua and Washington instill the overly familiar subject matter of vigilante justice with their own unique styles, what does surprise is that after seeing how well their inherent styles gel together after over a decade apart it makes one wonder why it took so long for them to come back together. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats: 
Projector Type: Digital 2D         
Film Rating: R                       
Film Runtime: 2 hr 11 min    
Studio: Sony Pictures

Biases:  
Loves: Denzel Washington, Vigilante stories
Likes: Antoine Fuqua, Chloe Grace Moretz
Neutral:  Well worn genres with little new added
Hates: Nothing
Give us more!: Fuqua and Washington need to work together more often

Someone is about to get hurt.
The Equalizer is far from the first film to travel down the path of the vigilante. The genre is littered with great examples from over the decades with films like V for Vendetta, Falling Down, Taxi Driver and even the very popular super hero genre can be considered a sub genre with films such as Kick-Ass and Batman. Heck, even Washington has partaken in the genre before with the critically maligned but commercially successful Man On Fire where there he also went on a murdering spree to protect a young girl. Other actors such as Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry), Charles Bronson (Death Wish) and Mel Gibson (Mad Max) have made a career off playing vigilantes.

Television has had its fair share of vigilantes as well with shows like Dexter, Knight Rider and The A-Team to name just a few. The television show The Equalizer by comparison to all of those examples is barely a footnote in the long lineage of the vigilante justice genre, so it was without a doubt a strange choice for two talented individuals like Fuqua and Washington to pick that particular show to give a big screen makeover to. But perhaps that was the point, by picking a franchise that didn't really have a rabid fanbase they were able to work it and meld it into something that fit their styles together without rustling any feathers
Barely legal barely begins to describe it.
The film adaptation of The Equalizer doesn't really do much of anything to push the genre further or differentiate itself against all the greats that came before it, but you don't really go to these types of films looking for anyone to reinvent the wheel. This is most notable with the straight forward nature of Washington as a man named Robert McCall, a man who is alone in life but is not a lonely man exactkt. He has friends from his work at the local Home Depot Mart he works at who he likes and even helps out when in need, such as his buddy Ralphie () who is trying to slim down for the security guard position where he acts as his personal trainer in his spare time.

His helpful nature also carries over to those he befriends from local establishments he frequents such as the teenage Teri () whom he exchanges a few words with each night at the corner cafe while he reads one of his many books. But Teri's troubles aren't about trying to get a particular job or promotion, her troubles are in the form of a man named Slavi (), a man who isn't afraid to beat her on the street in front of Robert when she misbehaves with clients and needs to be taught a lesson. Unfortunately for Slavi and his crew they picked the wrong guy to test. After some real soul searching, and a predictable attempt to pay Slavi off for Teri, Robert takes Slavi and each of his crew out in a matter of seconds in a blaze of brutality which sparks a flame in the form of Teddy (), a Russian mafia cleaner who is given the task of locating both Robert and Teri to eliminate them as painfully and publicly as possible to be made examples of.

Teddy is about to receive one big metaphorical spanking.
From there the film becomes a sort of cat and mouse game as Robert's mysterious past slowly gets revealed as he constantly out smarts Teddy at every turn all the while taking the Russian mob's business' out all around town as a message to Teddy and his employers to pack up and leave immediately. This constitutes the most entertaining aspect to the film in the way we see Robert mercilessly take out each and every one of Teddy's men (as well as a few side job crooks for other friends) and do it in a manner that only Denzel Washington can deliver. There is a reason why Washington's role in Man on Fire garnered him a whole slew of new and adorning fans and that is his ability to smite evil in a way that makes it feel so satisfying.

The key ingredient to any vigilante film of any sort is seeing the bad guys (usually very smug and sure of themselves) fall on their face and get a spanking so to speak. But the way Washington delivers his particular brand of justice is what reminds us, while he go through the motions, why we love ourselves a good bit of vigilante action from time to time, even when we have seen it all before. With the genre so worn out at this point (there are only so many ways you can make someone pay for their crimes), it takes a pair like Fuqua and Washington to make the overly familiar material work, and they do.

I don't think he is building a shed with that...
But aside from some gleefully violent moments such as a ridiculously outlandish (but awesome) final showdown between Robert and an entire Russian hit squad inside a hardware store (where plenty of power tools are used to great effect), there isn't much else going on in The Equalizer to really set it apart from its brethren. The relationships that we see Robert forge over the course of the film feel more like a way to let us know he is a helpful guy than they are genuine friendships forged by compatible personalities.

Take the bond between Robert and Teri for instance. Aside from their chats at the coffee shop and a single stroll down the street, there isn't much to go on as to why Robert feels the need to protect Teri other than the fact that we know he just doesn't like seeing people getting roughed up. It isn't to the film's detriment that we don't get something more substantial in the realm of characterizations, it just feels like a lost opportunity to make his mission to wipe out all Russian crime from the city more personal than just a job.

Another place the film falters a little bit is in the logic department. For as smart as Robert is throughout the film (and he does some incredibly precognitive stuff), he also does some rather stupid stuff as well. The biggest and most glaring logic problem comes in the form that he has established this cover ID with a fake history where he works (that not even Teddy and his army of smart people can crack) which is clearly compromised by the end of the film (leaving dead bodies all over your work place with both co-workers and video surveillance as witnesses doesn't help much), but when everything is over he goes back to work and continues to frequent the same coffee shop (where he killed a guy) with the same name, yet no one finds it odd that a simple customer service employee killed and maimed (expertly) an entire hit squad. Not exactly covert there.

Sometimes you just can't beat an old fashioned gun to the face.
One other thing (and you can chalk this up to a pet peeve), early on in the film when Teri is hospitalized by the beating Slavi gave her, she up and disappears at one point and never returns until the very end of the film. We have no idea where she went or how she did it. One minute she was laying in a hospital bed in critical condition and the next she has vanished. Teddy spends most of the film asking where she is and I was right there with him. Now, at the end of the film it is revealed that Robert gave her the cash to get out of town, but that left over 90 minutes of the movie where she is just gone without a trace. All I needed to know was where she went and who helped her, is that too much to ask? Instead I was left guessing as to where and when she might pop up all throughout the film which was just unnecessary.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Don't let these little nitpicks sway you from seeing the film however. The lack of originality and logic issues are not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. This is a perfectly serviceable vigilante tale that was given the A class treatment by having an A class director behind the scenes and an A class actor dealing out the pain to a large number of bad guys you will no doubt enjoy watching receive it in all its glory. The Equalizer may not go down as one of the greatest vigilante stories ever told, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it is a well made and entertaining slice of vigilante justice served up by some real talented folks.

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