Rated: R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: September 26, 2014 Released by: Sony Pictures
Denzel Washington (2 Guns, Safe House) has no difficulty selling his undeniable star presence in this reteaming with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen) where he persuasively parlayed a corrupt LA narcotics cop (opposite Ethan Hawke) to an Oscar win.
A Boston-based popcorn flick, The Equalizer is a post-modern, pretty modish re-envisioning of the late 1980s CBS television drama starring Edward Woodward as a pro-bono detective Robert McCall out to balance the scales of justice of dastardly street crimes. Here, an uncomplicated scenario is suited to the actor's inimitable talents in something hardly ambitious having something in common with Death Wishwhere Washington started out (nearly four decades ago) by getting in the way of Charles Bronson's morally compromised architect turned vigilante Paul Kersey. Those who remember the small-scale enterprise might be surprised how Fuqua and Washington came up with what has more in common with a formulaic serial-killer thriller.
But, this McCall while turning out to have aging action-hero aplomb as Fuqua immeasurably aids with a fair amount of ultra-violent mayhem may be a different kind of cousin to Liam Neeson's Taken avenger or his current conflicted (12-Step Program follower) Matthew Scudder in A Walk Among The Tombstones.
Though an early senior widower in McCall puts ads out for work that is suited to his how he excelled in his earlier days as a government agent, employment in a Home Depot-type business depicts him as a kinder sort who is well-read when it comes to Cervantes and Hemingway, to name two.
As in The Drop a gritty and absorbing crime drama based on a short story, Russian gangsters who share a gambit with the (not so squeaky clean) authorities allows for McCall to showcase his former skills which are considerable and have a cold brutality about them. Especially after a prostitute, Teri (a fine Chloe Moretz of If I Stay), that Robert regularly encounters after work at his favorite coffee shop is left for dead after being roughed up when not appeasing her pimp (David Meunier).
Scenarist Richard Wenk (16 Blocks) lets McCall's impassive nature surface amidst a tenuous ethical direction that Washington handles with his customary thoughtful assurance (or at least a look of anguish prevalent in more contemplative interludes). Even if the retribution comes on with a thud and little originality as a corkscrew (ala 'MacGyver') is used with fierce precision that the Russians have to counter with right-hand man Teddy (Marton Csokas, too rote as the villain reminiscent of what John McClane once faced on screen).
As in the more hyper-stylized, over-the-top Man on Fire where Washington roiled with vengeance out to retrieve a couple's kidnapped daughter as mercenary John Creasy, McCall's after Teddy's ornately tattooed Moscow ringleader (Vladimir Kulich). This despot is considered "untouchable" by McCall's former superior at the agency (Melissa Leo) with whom he contacts along with her husband (Bill Pullman) in a rare bit of soul-searching before more imperative brutal, heartless Beantown cleansing.
Though much of the action is a little hard to decipher due to an overall gloomy grey look (with brief instances of luminosity when the proceedings seem to take a pronounced turn), the climax (although pretty easily forecasted) should appease fans who like the kind of intense scenes that Fuqua is able to orchestrate in a polished, if protracted one-man show which, for some, could inaugurate a new franchise. One that, if more freshly inspired and impacted by its progenitor to a level of being considered more worthwhile, could come closer to matching the level of a star taken to harshly harrying those who don't own up to their hostilities.