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As with any film, even if it’s a near perfect one, there will be some naysayers. Individuals who for whatever reason, just can’t get behind the film being discussed. The Equalizer is no exception. That said, you will find no such naysaying here, dear reader. I’m going to put this out right now that yes, I am a Denzel Washington fan. However, the aim here is to examine as critically as possible just what about this film was so enjoyable. You can be the judge as to whether or not the attempt is successful, just as you will judge whether or not this film is one you should spend your money on in the near future.
If you know anything about the 1980s television show, or if you have seen any of the trailers or television spots on this film, you know the basic premise. Heck, the title is enough to tell you at least something about who this man is and what he does, which mainly consists of going around town righting wrongs and equalizing the odds for the little man. We know at some point in this film we are going to see our hero doing his work. Before that though, we are introduced to the life that this man lives and what leads him to make certain moves.
Washington plays Robert McCall, a man who lives a quiet life in the city of Boston, where he is an employee at a Home Depot-esque hardware store. McCall has a mysterious past, which he has managed to keep hidden for the better part of many years. However, when a local sex worker who he befriends (Chloë Grace Moretz) is brutally attacked, McCall’s mysterious past is soon to make its return to the present. And return it does, in a very big way.
Director Fuqua employs a fair amount of restraint before we see McCall go back to his days as a special forces officer. There is ample time for the story to breathe, allowing us to get to know the present day McCall, who seems just like any average Joe trying to make a living, helping co-workers in any way he can, and being a generally decent man. What makes us want to know more about him is the interesting character quirks he possesses, particularly one to do with a digital wrist watch, which gives us a hint into some of the old habits (or forms of military training) that still live with him.
His home is too clean and organized, minimally furnished, and there are many books in his home library, any one of which he can be found reading at a diner he frequents after 2 a.m. Fuqua allows the audience to see all of this with careful, steady craftsmanship and then, when the moment is just right, the façade drops and it’s time for the real McCall to stand up and start equalizing.
On the surface, this movie really isn’t anything to write home about. Particularly in terms of the film’s plot. We have actually seen variations of this kind of revenge-themed film before. Some of them very well done like Washington’s own Man on Fire, others not so much like the Nicolas Cage vehicle Rage, which was released earlier this year. However, the main thing about this movie that is worth writing home about is the performance of Denzel Washington. He makes this film more than just an average revenge piece. Washington is just as commanding doing absolutely nothing but sitting and staring off as he is when he moves and speaks. It makes one wonder how much Fuqua actually had to direct Washington he is so good. He is a swift shadow, who oozes cool and the film utilizes him to the utmost, but does so in a way that allows Washington enough room to be understated and nuanced, even in the films most tense and pulse-pounding moments.
Other things to write home about would include the expert pacing of the action sequences in this film. Fuqua’s particularly steady hand is the key here. The action does not just hit us bluntly across the face like something you might get in a say, Michael Bay flick, but rather, we are slowly primed and gently led to a place to receive the action. The pace of the film’s first action sequence is so wonderfully deliberate that you almost wonder if any action will take place at all.
Also worth mentioning is the film’s final climactic action sequence, which felt something akin to the final showdown in the Clint Eastwood western For A Few Dollars More in the ways it was slowly set up. It was carefully photographed in such a way that adds to the gradual build up, like setting up dominoes. The music was masterfully employed in a simmering manner for the lead up, and then is punctuated when necessary. The dark and dimly lit shots add to the tone, which makes this sequence, in its own way, one of the best climactic showdowns in recent memory. This scene also contains extra little treats in the form of lyrical shots like extreme close-ups of Washington’s menacing eyes amidst the heavy water droplets of emergency sprinklers, which is just one of many little gems to be found throughout the film.
This film is basically a contemporary western set on the east coast, with the lone hero who moves from place to place doing good and dispensing justice, albeit by questionable means. With a planned sequel already in the works, it begs the question of whether or not The Equalizer could be the start of Fuqua’s own Dollars Trilogy with Washington as its star. It may be a bit premature to presume or even hope for, but with all the sequels popping up these days, and Liam Neeson’s Taken films getting the three-quel treatment, it wouldn’t be a stretch. If an Equalizer sequel is even half as entertaining and satisfying as this one was, I’d definitely tell you to call The Equalizer to help even the odds of catching a mediocre action flick.