TIFF Review: The Equalizer


Add Denzel Washington to the list of aging Hollywood stars that can, and will, kick your ass. Like Liam Neeson in his Taken series, Denzel Washington is on an all-out rampage in The Equalizer.

Save for the title and the name of its central character, this modern reboot shares almost no similarities with the 80’s television crime drama on which it is based. Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, a man who believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when McCall meets Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t stand idly by – he has to help her. Armed with hidden skills that allow him to serve vengeance against anyone who would brutalize the helpless, McCall comes out of his self-imposed retirement and finds his desire for justice reawakened.

The film is slow to start, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I loved the restraint and obsessive-compulsive tendencies that a life of discipline and order instilled in McCall. The beginning of the film feels like a slow-boil, with McCall seemingly settled into a monotonous routine, working at a Home Depot-esque big box store and keeping his head down. From there, the story, McCall’s motives and the increasing violence become overly long (at over 2 hours), unoriginal and uninspired – blowing up into an almost self-parody of action movie clichés including slow motion walkaways from explosions, one-man vs dozens action sequences and Home Alone inspired traps and weapons fashioned from Home Depot tools and appliances. The film is a bit of a mess, with an endless supply of Russian gangsters, crooked cops, and helpless citizens crossing paths with McCall. Prepare yourself, McCall will equalize the situation….and I think his definition of “equalize” coincides with “maim” and “kill”.

The Equalizer - 2014

I expected a lot more from a film directed by Antoine Fuqua and led by Denzel Washington. Their previous collaboration on Training Day led to a well-deserved Oscar for Mr. Washington. The Equalizer has nowhere near the level of gripping story, characters or nuance to add interest for the audience. It plays out like any other generic action flick with some stylish camera work and fluid fight scenes. I kept getting the distinct impression that we’ve seen Man On Fire The Equalizer before – with Washington exacting justice on behalf of the helpless (Dakota Fanning Chloë Grace Moretz).

Denzel Washington holds the film together with his portrayal of a lethal man with a strict moral code. Denzel is mesmerizing on screen – he holds our attention in his intense stare and excellent delivery of even the most ridiculous lines. Washington is convincing when he’s eviscerating thugs, but he’s more enthralling when he’s sitting in a chair and talking – like watching a coiled snake – he seems ready to strike in every moment. Even if he’s in a foolish film, Denzel never makes a fool of himself.

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The Equalizer is a relatively generic crusader flick that plays like a video game highlight reel; complete with one-liners in the rain and tons of ultra-violent close up action.

Denzel deserves a better film. I wish they had equalized Denzel Washington’s talent with a better story.



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