Film of the week: The Equalizer
09:00 25 September 2014
Director Antoine Fuqua, who guided Denzel Washington to the Oscar podium in Training Day, reunites with the charismatic actor for this gratuitously violent reimagining of the beloved 1980s TV series.
Nostalgic memories of Edward Woodward’s refined approach to justice and crime-fighting on the small screen are blown to smithereens by this brutish, big-screen rendering of The Equalizer.
I can think of few performers who are so conspicuously and willfully frittering away their talents as Denzel Washington, who for the last decade has mostly applied his casual and seemingly ef for tless mastery of screen acting to breezing through a selection of lightweight action romps.
He pursues the maintenance of his position as a bankable African American movie star (and one who doesn’t resort to sequels or franchise flicks) as if it were a noble calling.
This time he has extended this crusade to an attempt to assuage Americans’ insecurity about their position in the New World Disorder.
The Equalizer opens in Taxi Driver mode with Washington as an everyday guy who can’t sleep, and who ventures out to an all-night diner where everybody seems to bring their own food and drink and where he entangles himself with the fate of a prostitute Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz).
When she ends up in hospital, battered and bruised at the hands of her controlling Russian pimp Slavi (David Meunier), McCall exacts revenge.
Justice seemingly prevails.
Unfortunately, Slavi and his goons are a link in a bigger chain controlled by the Russian Mafia and they dispatch sadistic fixer, Kevin Spacey look-alike Teddy (Marton Csokas) to track down McCall.
Where De Niro’s Travis Bickle was a psychotic loose cannon, Washington is an OCD health Nazi, very particular about cutlery placement and always criticising other people’s diets and lifestyles.
Overwrought Washington’s McCall is less vigilante, more a one-man biblical wrath of God. His powers and abilities are so absolute and far reaching that there isn’t a moment of jeopardy in the whole film.
It is a preposterous and overwrought revenge fantasy but that is what makes its rabble rousing effective. It has the ferocity of a cornered animal and no sense of proportion.
It is crushingly violent and Sony has trimmed the violence from two scenes on the BBFC’s advice to avoid an 18 rating. In this aspect it is true to the TV series, which Mary Whitehouse types were always criticising for its violence.
In a dizzying opening fight sequence, Washington impales a corkscrew in one henchman’s noggin and repeatedly pummels a couple more as if he was tenderising a large slab of steak.
Each bone-cracking blow, stab and punch is captured in balletic close-up; a queasy dance of death that reaches a hilarious and frenetic crescendo with drills and sledgehammers in a hardware warehouse where the title character works when he’s not coolly doling out just desserts.
It says something about America and the West’s sense of insecurity that the filmmakers feel we will respond to something as blunt and as brutish as this, but they are probably right.
Without Washington it’d be ridiculous, but he presents a compelling vision of traditional American righteousness.
*** (3 Stars)