The Equalizer (2014)

*. I’ve talked before about how a successful movie is usually a genre effort that gives the audience exactly what it expects, with just a bit of a twist.
*. Without the twist, what you get is The Equalizer.
*. The premise was taken from a TV show that ran in the 1980s starring Edward Woodward as a one-man A-Team. It’s a show that I must have seen (I watched a lot of TV at the time) but which I have absolutely no memory of. More proximately, however, the model was clearly Taken: a star vehicle meant to rebrand a middle-aged actor as an action hero. It’s a sub-category of a genre that has its own label now: geri-action. In Liam Neeson’s case it worked, at least for a while. With Denzel Washington (originally it was going to be Russell Crowe) the jury is still out, though he was very good in The Book of Eli and The Equalizer did well enough for a sequel to be duly ordered up.
*. In Taken Neeson played a retired CIA black-ops agent who had a particular set of skills that came in handy when his wife and child were threatened. In The Equalizer Denzel Washington plays a retired CIA black-ops agent with a particular set of skills . . . you get the picture. His wife and child are missing in action but he stands as a surrogate father figure over most of his working-class Boston neighbourhood, defending the poor and the weak from various bad guys. In this case that mainly means the Russian mob. They’re so bad they’re not even American. Where are the boyos from The Boondock Saints when you need them?
*. Though the Saints aren’t in much need here. Robert McCall (if that is his real name) is up to not only taking on the Russian mob, but indeed all of Russia itself. He’s a superhero who doesn’t feel the need to use a gun, preferring (and it is a deliberate choice) to dispatch bad guys with lethal ninja skills performed at Matrix-style speed, or with whatever goods and appliances he can grab off the shelf of the local Home Mart hardware store he works at. He’s also mastered the essential art of every Hollywood action hero of being able to walk cool in slow motion. David Edelstein: “when was the last time you saw a lone hero stride toward the climactic killing ground in slow motion? Yesterday? An hour ago?”
*. Don’t be thinking this is just another brainless, soulless action film though. It has a message. You can become anything you want to be in this world if you just believe in yourself, work hard, and stay in school. Reading books is recommended too. It’s all about self-improvement.
*. Chloë Grace Moretz plays the young prostitute rescued from the clutches of the mob. What a clichéd role. I’ve heard that real prostitutes actually resent people thinking of them in this way. Blame Hollywood. I mean, wasn’t Taxi Driver sticking this whole convention on its head forty years ago?
*. At least Marton Csokas as the Chief Bad Guy looks like he had some fun getting dressed up and covered in tats for the role. It’s a worthless part, again nothing more than a walking cliché, but you get the sense he’s feeling it.
*. Isn’t carbon monoxide poisoning a gentle form of torture? Especially if the torturee thinks he’s going to be killed anyway. Being gassed might seem a pleasant exit option. But then the whole scene here where this is played out is pretty silly.
*. As noted, the setting is Boston. We know this because one of the homes has a Boston Red Sox flag in it and there are lots of aerial shots of various landmarks, especially that fancy new bridge (officially, the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, which opened in 2003). But aside from that, this doesn’t feel at all like it is set anywhere in particular. I think they were just trying to give a bit of local flavour to the generic material.
*. How the hell did they let such a plain story drag on for 2 hours and 12 minutes? There is literally nothing here. Reuniting Washington with Antoine Fuqua, the director of Training Day, audiences had every reason to expect something more. They sure didn’t get it. And yet they seemed content. So I guess they got what they paid for.

2 thoughts on “The Equalizer (2014)

  1. Tom Moody

    Training Day is in my Top 10 bad films. Obviously Washington thinks he’s being intense in that movie but he’s essentially a nice fellow who works well with the Hollywood system and is never believably “scary” (cf. Dennis Hopper, Klaus Kinski, etc.).
    This self-improvement theme you mentioned has become a disease of current cinema. I blame it on Hollywood’s therapy and 12-step culture; people in the industry go in for that stuff and think the little people in flyover land could benefit from a pep talk (while the film is serving up explosions and gore). Every Pixar movie has this “you can do it” message but it spills over to the action genres too.
    The other recurring theme in Hollywood films is “the heel who learns the healing power of love.” Tom Cruise in Rain Man, etc.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good Post author

      I used to lump a lot of Hollywood’s favourite themes together as “the triumph of the human spirit.” That seemed to cover all the bases.

      I know what you mean about Washington. He’s hard to buy as a bad man. But few traditional heroes can play villains. When it does happen, and works, it’s surprising. Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West. Paul Newman in Hud. Or Matt Damon in Interstellar, to a lesser extent. Even Tom Cruise playing a heel in Magnolia was maybe his most interesting role (and I’m not saying I liked the movie that much). Washington just doesn’t project evil well. But in this movie he’s the Hero all the way so he really doesn’t have to do much at all.

      Reply

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