“The Equalizer” is part remake, part reimagining and part origin story. Taking its inspiration from the 1980s Edward Woodward starring TV Series, the movie dirties it up a bit and adds a hard edge of brutality, taking us back to a time before Robert McCall had become The Equalizer.
Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is living quietly in Boston working at a local hardware superstore and visiting his favourite diner in the evenings. When Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a local call girl he knows is assaulted by her pimp, McCall intervenes, offering to buy her freedom with his modest savings. When his offer is rebuffed, McCall reluctantly calls on the skills of his previous life to devastating and brutal effect. Unfortunately, the pimp is merely the local underling of a powerful Russian Mafia boss, who sends his most ruthless lieutenant (Marton Csokas) to find out what happened. As the situation escalates, McCall offers his opponents a chance to walk away and let things be, but the Russians are in no mood to concede and so Robert is forced back into a life he thought he had left behind.
We know Denzel can do ultra-hard badass thanks to films like “Man On Fire” and once again he excels as the softly spoken, quietly restrained man forced into using the skills he thought he had left behind him. The action is hard, fast and bone-crunchingly graphic, and the film has no problem with piling up the body count. Although we learn that McCall is an ex-black ops specialist with ties to the CIA, the ease with which he takes on and dismantles an entire criminal organisation feels a little too easy and convenient, even if it’s done with a great deal of skill and style. The film’s narrative ends up a little uneven thanks to having to do away with so many henchman and Chloë Grace Moretz, the catalyst for the adventure, abruptly disappears from the film half way through only to reappear at the end without any real explanation of where she’s been or why the merciless Teddy didn’t try to use her as leverage on McCall.
The film is at its best when we see Robert McCall ‘equalizing’ on a more modest, human scale: taking out some corrupt cops or recovering some stolen property rather than waging an epic gang war. However, the action-packed finale is exciting and well-staged – even if it’s a weird sensation to be rooting for the guy who’s clearly more inventively vicious and possibly darker than the bad guys he’s offing with disturbing ease and efficiency.
With a sequel already in the works, it’s clear that the advert we see McCall placing on Craig’s List (‘Odds against you? Need help? Call the Equalizer.’) will drum up some interest. Although there’s little of the TV series left in this stylishly violent action movie (not even a reworking of Stewart Copeland’s iconic theme tune), it’s a great action movie and hopefully the sequel will stay more rooted to helping out the innocent and vulnerable rather than spinning off into another globetrotting super-agent franchise.