Several years ago when rumours first began of a movie version of the 1980s television series The Equalizer, there were a lot of concerns about whether it would remain faithful to the spirit of the show. The series focused on Robert McCall, a retired spy who helped people out with problems that the police couldn’t, and he didn’t necessarily do it for money; it was more about him making amends for all the dirty work he had done for the Agency. In many ways it was The A Team for grown-ups. The casting of Edward Woodward was key, as McCall was a successor in many ways to the morally compromised Callan. Almost thirty years later the series might seem a little creaky with age, but I do think that it was a well-written, well-acted drama series that stood out at a time when cyncial anti-heroes were not in vogue.
Moreover, it was set in New York and the city was very much a grubby character of the show, with its graffitied subways and run-down neighbourhoods. News that the movie version would be set in Boston had fans worried, and the rumour that McCall would be working at the Home Depot had us bewildered. A script was circulating on the Internet that described a showdown that read like Die Hard at the Hardware Store
Well, the good news is that fans of The Equalizer needn’t worry: other than the title, the film bears very little resemblance to the show, and you can enjoy the movie without having your memories of the series ruined.
Denzel Washington has reunited with director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, which I reviewed here) to make a violent, silly and quite enjoyable vigilante thriller. There is indeed a siege at the hardware store, and although the sequence features Washington wielding a nailgun (filmed in lurid homoerotic music video style in slow motion under a rainstorm from water sprinklers), the film has enough decent other stuff going on that you can almost forgive its pulpish excesses.
The Equalizer is a B movie with an A-list star and a big budget, and although it contains a lot of the genre’s cliches, it has more breadth and attention to detail than these sorts of films usually have. It’s almost thirty minutes in before any action happens, and when it does, it’s quick and nasty. Up until then the film leisurely sets out the story and characters (I wonder if Fuqua had to fight the studio to keep the slow pace of the script. The film was made by Sony; there’s probabaly a leaked email about it somewhere.)
McCall lives alone in a very neat apartment. He’s tidy and well-groomed, and he doesn’t really have much excitement in his life (he times how long it takes to do the dishes). He dons the hardware apron and works hard, is popular with his co-workers, and takes time to help out one, Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis) to lose some weight so he can pass the test to become a security guard. At night McCall doesn’t sleep much. Instead he stops off at a neighbourhood diner and quietly reads his book (he reads a lot of books). It’s the sort of diner that probably only exists in movies and owes a lot to Edward Hopper. Hardly anyone eats there (except for urban loners, of course).
Another regular is Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz), a working girl who really wants to be a singer. Is widowed MacCall going to take an interest in her? Does he offer helpful avuncular advice? Of course he does. She works for Hollywood’s go-to sleazy villains of choice: Russian mobsters (honestly, Russians really get a bad rep in movies, don’t they? They’re either waifish prostitutes, scuzzy gangsters or nostalgic communists.) When Alina is savagely beaten by her boss, McCall takes off the hardware apron and turns into a mixture of Jason Bourne and Charles Bronson, and you may find yourself wondering how one person could possibly do this much damage to so many people. The plot probably doesn’t bear examination, but it’s stylishly filmed and slickly edited, and it’s hugely enjoyable. 60 year-old Washington dispatches bad guys with an efficiency that would shame fellow pensioner Liam Neeson.
McCall’s main adversary is Teddy, the man who’s been sent by the mob to fix the mess. Teddy is a sharply-dressed, sadistic hood, and Martin Csokas has a grand time playing him with just the right amount of relish. Also making appearances are Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman.
With his trim figure and not as yet badly wrinkled features, Washington is still a credible action star with a great deal of charisma, much of which he reins in. His performance here as the aged white knight is for the most part quiet, but then again, apart from a few scenes, this is a quiet film. You never learn what in McCall’s past is haunting him, so we are saved from the one awful cliche of a flashback showing a young McCall making a horrific mistake that gets someone killed in Budapest or Hong Kong or wherever.
Verdict: 3 and a half vor v zakone tattoos out of 5
All Photos: Sony Pictures Canada