The Equalizer is the latest in a long line of classic entertainment properties to get the modernized, big-screen treatment. Stepping into the role famously played by Edward Woodward in the ‘80s TV series is Denzel Washington, one of Hollywood’s few remaining truly bankable movie stars.
He plays Robert McCall, a seemingly ordinary man who lives a quiet life working at a DIY store. However, his subdued existence is shaken up when he meets Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young girl who is under the control of violent Russian gangsters. He decides to take it upon himself to help the girl get out of that life, soon revealing his mysterious past as an intelligence officer, armed with lethal skills against those who seek to harm the helpless.
There are obviously going to be changes made in any adaptation of an older movie or TV show and this is no exception. However, treated on its own merits as opposed to be constantly compared to what came before, this is an efficient and effective, if not particularly ground-breaking, action thriller. It serves up many clichés associated with the genre, from its generic Russian gangster baddies who verge on the pantomime – led by a generically evil enforcer, played by Martin Csokas – to the style of action that includes Bourne-like hand-to-hand combat and lots of gunplay.
But under the direction of Antoine Fuqua (reuniting with his Training Day leading man) it’s a slick, entertaining watch that gets the job done. He’s a director that knows how to shoot an action sequence in a stylish, attention-grabbing way, even if there isn’t much substance beyond the surface of his work – see also ‘Law Abiding Citizen’, ‘Shooter’ and ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ for other examples of this.
The film ultimately falls on the shoulder of its leading man and Washington makes it work. He has spent much of his career over the last 15 years or so, in everything from Man on Fire to last year’s 2 Guns, perfecting the badass action hero persona and he uses that to full effect here. Although a somewhat quieter version of that persona than we’ve seen him play before, he absolutely oozes charisma throughout and more than steps up to the plate when it comes to the action, of which there is plenty, dispensing with bad guys using a variety of different bloody methods, particularly during the film’s overblown but nevertheless fun Die Hard-esque finale.
For a man pushing 60 (yes, really) he’s still able to convince as the type of leading man we’ve all come to know and love. And while the screenplay by Richard Wenk (The Expendables 2, The Mechanic) doesn’t imbue this particular portrayal of the character with much beyond clichés (much like the plot itself), Washington elevates him to make for an intriguing protagonist, a loyal protector to those who warrant it and a deadly force to be reckoned with to those who deserve it. We’re very likely going to get a sequel (contingent, as always, on sufficient box office success) and perhaps the script next time can give Washington even more with which to work.
At 132 minutes long, the film could have done with about 30 minutes shaved off its runtime. As it is the film struggles to keep a consistent pace, occasionally lumbering when it should be speeding along. This fairly lengthy runtime is, perhaps, an attempt to make it a meatier, more meaningful cinematic experience but it doesn’t have the dramatic weight to back it up. At its heart it’s an action thriller and a leaner approach might have helped it make more of a more memorable mark. Nevertheless there’s enough going on in this solidly made, slickly presented film to keep both Washington and action thriller fans engaged.
This review was previously published on Scotcampus.