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Friday, September 26, 2014

The Equalizer 2014 * * * Stars

The EqualizerDirector: Antoine Fuqua
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz, Marton Csokas

Without hesitation, I will stand by my convictions and say that the crime thriller Training Day was my pick for best film of 2001. Lead actor Denzel Washington won an Oscar playing a revved up Popeye Doyle type (a la The French Connection) and director Antoine Fuqua hurled himself into the spotlight with his fast paced, eclectic shooting style and signature roving camera technique. Now in the fall of 2014, these two have reunited again (and it feels so good, ha!) for The Equalizer, another crime thriller that is based on a fairly successful 80's television series of the same name. Is this film as messy, powerful, dark, cathartic, or as good as Training Day? No not exactly. But if you're a fan of Washington (who isn't) and are curious to see if Fuqua can actually make something worthwhile again (lately he's misfired with flicks like Olympus Has Fallen being a horrible Die Hard ripoff and 2010's Brooklyn's Finest being overlong and out of his collective realm as a filmmaker), then The Equalizer will no doubt satisfy you, the audience member.

With a plot that seems one note at first before kicking into high gear via the second and third act, and an antagonist who resembles Kevin Spacey's evil twin brother in the looks department, The Equalizer follows retired intelligence officer Robert McCall (Washington). Once a trained killer and someone who supposedly had a fellow agent help fake his own death, McCall now leads a boring, middle aged life. He works at I guess, a Home Depot-like hardware store, he lives in a apartment with basically bare walls and a couple of pieces of furniture, he doesn't sleep, he doesn't eat, and when he does go out of his apartment, he frequents a diner where he brings a tea bag with him and orders nothing but hot water (strange don't you think). McCall also reads books like The Invisible Man and The Old Man and the Sea (these books sort of serve as metaphors for the film's storytelling sensibilities) and likes to place silverware and cups on certain spots on a table. Basically, he's an odd, dull dude until Russian gangsters, a common thief, and two dirty cops mess with a few of his acquaintances (Teri, a young prostitute played by the overexposed Chloe Grace Moretz and Ralphie, a budding security guard played by Johnny Skourtis to name two). Within the film's first 30-40 minutes, Washington's McCall (just like his Alonzo Harris in Training Day) gets in big trouble with the Russian Mafia (essentially the film's main plot point). Why? Because he killed five of their U.S. allies in 19 seconds (give or take). They wouldn't give Teri the freedom she deserves from being their sexualized civil servant. So basically in the end, McCall quote unquote "has to find peace" by killing this whole Mafia chain. That is The Equalizer in a nutshell and what helps it rise above most crime thrillers is the intelligence of Washington's resurrected character. He's one step ahead of everybody and you never sense that he is in any danger or peril. The whole nature at which he goes about his situation comes off as predictable and pat. To a degree though, it actually works.

Along with having a similar (or almost identical) film score to Training Day (as mentioned earlier) and eerily possessing its various camera angles, The Equalizer didn't so much remind me of "Day" as it hinted more towards Washington's 2004 effort, Man on Fire. The themes are similar (you know the act of revenge on the despicable schleps who do harm to the innocent) yet "Equalizer" is superior in that Antoine Fuqua doesn't glorify images of grotesque violence coupled with silly, unnecessary subtitles like the late Tony Scott did. He directs with less flash and the results are careful, calculated, and more efficient (just like our hero, Robert McCall). Yes, this flick is violent and at times, Denzel's special ops character dispatches villains in the style of Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th movies (I'm not kidding people). But most of the fight scenes are done with minimal lighting so you don't see a ton of blood and gore. And to assure you that someone is taking a beating, the sound effects with every bone break/throat slash, are louder than they need to be (a Fuqua trademark).

When it's all said and done, this is essentially a thirteen year reunion of a movie featuring director Fuqua and his can't miss collaborator in star Washington. It's a serviceable effort despite descending into your standard, routine bloody action fare towards its conclusion. It works ultimately because of Denzel who along with Al Pacino and Liam Neeson, is up there with being one of my favorite movie stars of all time. If you cut his arm (hypothetically speaking of course), he would literally bleed cool. With the exception of kicking every one's butt all over the place in "Equalizer", he actually underplays this performance. Instead of emoting like a monkey on amphetamines like he did volcanically in Training Day, he instead relies on a natural, burning screen presence and a cool walk through a room exuding confidence and some serious swag. If you choose to take in a viewing of The Equalizer, know that 100% of what goes on involves Washington doing the whole One Man Army thing. Thankfully, he separates himself from the pack (you know, the Schwarzeneggers, the Stallones, and the Seagals) by being a better actor than most action stars, exhibiting some sophistication on eluding (or infiltrating) the bad guys, and essentially showing the audience how the art of being a one man vigilante would realistically go down. So for those reasons, you should buy a ticket, get settled in this fall, and wait for the lights to dim. After taking in an early matinee, The Equalizer "equaled" three stars for me. I think you'll enjoy it as well.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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