In Guy Ritchie’s Snatch Vinnie Jones’ ‘Bullet Tooth Tony’ has an amazing piece of dialogue while he’s being held at (replica) gun point that I couldn’t stop from echoing in my mind during The Equalizer. See, to put it politely, the crooks in The Equalizer are dicks, *read all quotes in Vinnie Jones voice* “now dicks have drive and clarity of vision, but they are not clever. They smell pussy and want a piece of the action.” They (the crooks) think that Robert (Denzel Washington) is “some good old pussy,” but instead he’s a “dose that’ll make you wish you were born a woman.” Reuniting for the first time since Training Day, director Antoine Fuqua and Washington bring a cleansing napalm to the Boston crime world, infiltrated by shadowy international crime syndicates.
Robert (Washington) is a mystery. He’s a sweetheart to his fellow employees at a home supply warehouse and indulges their cute hypotheses about his hidden past. His home is bare and the only solace to his isolated insomnia is reading through the night hours at his local cafe with down on her luck escort Teri/Alina (Chloë Grace Moretz). When Alina’s pimp gets rough with the merchandise it reveals Robert’s reflexive impulse and talent for vigilante justice. When the pimp’s ‘unleash the hounds’ to seek reprisal, in the form of the menacing Teddy (Martin Csokas), they awaken a sleeping dragon.
Firstly, The Equalizer is far from perfect, but that doesn’t matter, because ultimately it’s so damned entertaining. Never having heard of the TV series that inspired it does not matter in the slightest. Trudging through the necessary establishing formula of writer Richard Wenk’s script to veil and pace the forthcoming tsunami of vengeance. Dialogue like “hey old timer, the boys and I have been taking bets on what you were before you worked here,” doesn’t grate as much as it might if the film didn’t build to the awesome crescendo. And finally being perplexed by Grace Moretz’s very glossy and wooden portrayal of an immigrant prostitute contrasted with the affective work of Haley Bennett’s terrific Mandy (her sister in arms) round out this reviewer’s minor gripes.
Fuqua does great work behind the lens (with the assistance of cinematographer Mauro Fiore) that weaves through subject internal perspectives showing Robert’s inner workings to furious and inventive violence than would make Magyver proud. However, it’s apparent that Fuqua riffs deeply on two films, Michael Mann’s Miami Vice and Tony Scott’s (another collaboration with Washington) Man on Fire.
While Washington’s tortured John Creasy from Man on Fire was rooted in bleak reality, The Equalizer gets grandiose and you feel like this old dog’s chance of success are extremely high. In a world of international, corporatised crime, intertwined with rogue governments or terror organisations it’s nice to see a film (as The Raid 2: Berandal did before it) that pits a lone force against the seemingly impossible.
That obviously brings me to the leading man, Washington who one runs out of superlatives for in attempting to describe how he’s able to elevate the material. There’s an implicit charm bursting through the facade of innocence and wisdom that he practices in his civilian guise that peels away to reveal a scarily precise mind as you get to see him at work. Fuqua and Washington get Sherlock (both the Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch) in how Robert dismantles his opponents in his mind. Time slows, weapons of choice are observed and even estimates to the second are calculated before the straight faced embodiment of death deals out his determined punishment.
It’s in the film’s quiet contemplative moments that it nods to Mann’s Miami Vice. Fuqua composes Robert (Washington) staring out to the ocean, foreshadowing the inevitable carnage. A slice of score from Miami Vice (Mogwai’s aptly titled ‘We’re No Here’) charges through the speakers. This poetic aside of a man at peace with the vast sublime of the ocean tells you one thing; Robert and Washington are forces of nature.
Csokas’ has a great time with the snake like Teddy; he’s played as if the laws of civilisation are a trivial inconvenience. Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman create a brief window into Robert’s past that teases answers more than it reveals.
Watching Washington do almost anything is good; watching him as a modern ronin, that makes the scariest groups of villains cower like helpless puppies is a sadistic joy.
[rating=3] and a half
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Richard Wenk (based on the TV Series created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chloë Grace Moretz, Martin Csokas, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, Melissa Leo, Bill Pullman, David Meunier, Johnny Skourtis, Vladimir Kulich,
Cinematography: Mauro Fiore