CAST: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, Melissa Leo, Bill Pullman, David Meunier, Johnny Skourtis, Alex Veadov, Vladimir Kulich
RUNNING TIME: 131 mins
BASICALLY…: Robert McCall (Washington), a lowly man with a mysterious past, comes out of self-imposed retirement to help those in desperate need…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Anyone reading this that’s expecting an immediate comparing between The Equalizer television show of the 1980s and the new 2014 cinematic remake of the same name, may be disappointed. Having not seen Edward Woodward in action in a single episode, this reviewer – like almost all other adaptations they’re reviewed for this website – is going by how well the adaptation stands on its own two feet. As is, The Equalizer v.2 has sturdiness and strength in its feet but also a few notable flaws that partially weaken them and prevent the body from being truly balanced.
What are these flaws, you may be pondering behind your computer screen? They can mostly be attributed to Richard Wenk’s script, which despite being far from a bad screenplay by any means still exhibits a desire to stick to convention rather than sticking out from among the crowd. From a middle-aged man settling into a quiet existence only to be drawn back into a world of violence, to forming a connection with a young lost soul (in this case Chloe Grace Moretz’s underage prostitute), to manoeuvring their way through a web of corrupt officials and mobsters, there’s not much to find here that’s really all that new. The clichés do tend to pile up as the film goes on, which is a shame because Wenk’s script is nowhere near as bad as we’re probably making it out to be. The dialogue is decent, if somewhat on-the-nose at times – constant referring to Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea reeks of obvious symbolism – and the characterisation, despite being overly familiar, is a surprisingly heavy focus (something we’ll discuss shortly). It’s nowhere near as bad as some other writing we’ve seen this year, but the uninspired and formulaic tropes do drag it down.
Same goes for the film’s pacing, which is FAR too slow even for a slow-burner that this film aspires to be. By the time we finally see Denzel Washington in action we’re only about thirty or forty-five minutes in, and even by that point not much has really happened. It’s clear that director Antoine Fuqua is attempting a calmer approach to his movies after the high-octane thrills of Olympus Has Fallen, and though Fuqua is a fine director he cannot seem to find the right approach to tell this story which on some level should be almost as exciting as his previous directorial outing. It’s as if he’s trying to make his own version of Drive with the slowed pace and focus on character (interestingly, Nicolas Winding Refn was almost set to direct this film and, funnily enough, you can definitely feel his presence even though he wasn’t involved at all). Here, it doesn’t quite cut it and it can soon become a drag for audiences desperate to see some action and violence.
Some parts you feel probably weren’t needed in the overall narrative, for example Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman show up later in the movie but neither are given much to do except offer advice to our main hero. Hell, Pullman hardly says anything, mainly just sitting around and being Bill Pullman. It’s possible that their light introduction here is to set them up for possible future instalments should this become a franchise, but even so they have to be interesting enough for us to want to see them again, but as is they’re sadly blank slates despite their known talents. Fuqua also could have done with cutting at least one of the many endings this film presents us – of course we’re not going to say what they consist of, but there are simply too many points where it could have ended but decides to go on for another few seconds anyway. Even Lord of the Rings: Return of the King would be shouting at it to hurry up.
However, one of the strengths this movie exhibits which saves the movie from descending into forgettable territory is the characterisation. Yes, we’ve seen these archetypes before in many a Seagal or Van Damme movie but that shouldn’t matter as long as they’re executed well enough, which they certainly are here. Fuqua has recruited some good actors to give what are otherwise lesser roles some depth and personality. Moretz is actually not in the film as much as you’d think given her rising star status, but her archetypal “hooker with a heart of gold” part is mixed with enough of the actress’ likability and genuine talent to become memorable. David Harbour, so creepy as an antagonist in A Walk Among The Tombstones, is here given a good chunk of material to work with as a morally-confused corrupt cop and he, too, proves to be an actor worth watching.
But perhaps the biggest advantage that The Equalizer has is in keeping the focus where it should be in a hero-vs-villain story: the hero and the villain. Washington oozes on-screen with his usual charisma and heavyweight acting chops, while Marton Csokas is a truly terrifying presence as a Russian enforcer with a penchant for violence. Their opposing characters complement each other perfectly, and though they are again archetypes we’ve seen time and time again they are no less fun to watch. They’re both great actors giving their all to what material they’re given, and they make it work.
If we do see The Equalizer becoming a franchise, this is not a bad start but could have left a stronger impact.
SO, TO SUM UP…
The Equalizer is a serviceable action-thriller, though despite decent directing and committed performances can’t shake off its over-familiarity and pacing issues compared to other films that do the job a little better. As a potential start to a franchise, it’s not bad but could have left more than just an “okay” reaction…