If I were ever asked to define a middle of the road action film, I’d likely point to The Equalizer. Based upon the ‘80s show of the same name with Denzel Washington stepping into the role originated by Edward Woodward, The Equalizer needs an equalizing force of its own. For everything that The Equalizer gets right, there’s something wrong to counteract it. It’s not an awful film, nor is it particularly good.
In Boston, Robert McCall (Washington) works at a local massive hardware store – like a Home Depot. When he’s not working he spends his time helping a co-worker, Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis), train to lose weight for a job as a security guard. McCall spends his nights reading novels at a diner near his apartment. There he strikes up a friendly relationship with Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young prostitute with a heart of gold trapped in a seedy underworld. After Teri, whose real name is Alina, is brutally beaten by her Russian gangster pimps, McCall seeks them out. He offers the mobsters money for her freedom. When they reject his offer, he unleashes his hidden talents, swift and deadly. With 5 dead mobsters, the Russian hierarchy wants brutal vengeance, sending Teddy (Marton Csokas), a psychotic hitman for the mob. McCall now has to contend with the mob and their army of crooked cops. He must equalize.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua from a script by Richard Wenk, The Equalizer never truly finds the sweet spot, where the action and story are working on the same level. Visually, the film is a massive upgrade over Fuqua’s last film, Olympus Has Fallen. However, the story leaves much to be desired. When the action is visually thrilling, with surprising and inventive kills, it never means much because the film is almost entirely lacking in tension. Too often relying on tired clichés, The Equalizer fails to do anything new or original with the Russian gangster angle. As tired as the Russian gangster angle is, nothing is worse than the manner with which the film employs violence against women as a motivational factor. Violence against women is used as a device to illustrate that the bad guys are bad. Women are a powerless entity in constant need of protection.
As he does, Denzel Washington uses his effortless charm to provide the film with its most likable element. In a moment, he can provide a casual laugh to lighten the tone and in the next change to a menacing, threatening figure. I seriously think that Denzel could sit on a toilet with an awful case of diarrhea for 90 minutes, and would still be entertaining as long as he cracks the occasional joke and flashes his big smile every once in a while. The rest of the cast doesn’t come close to matching Washington’s charms. Marton Csokas gives his best playing the clichéd Russian. Though her character offers the motivation for Washington’s Equalizer, Chloë Grace Moretz is miscast as the young prostitute, and her character disappears for most of the film’s running time. It’s really nothing more than a top billed cameo from the young actress.
Running well over 2 hours, The Equalizer is a little long in the tooth. The material never earns its running time, but it’s rarely boring. It’s a film that really doesn’t know how to end, with something around 3 moments that seem like a logical ending. While I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, I can’t wholeheartedly discourage viewing it. There are instances where I laughed, cheered on a kill, and groaned at clichés. The Equalizer is middle of the road defined. You know, an Antoine Fuqua film.