Mark Reviews Movies

The Equalizer


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Johnny Skourtis, David Meunier, Haley Bennettt, Melissa Leo, Bill Pullman

MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references)

Running Time: 2:08

Release Date: 9/26/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 25, 2014

There's the old shot that starts in the wide world and gradually pushes into a narrower one. The camera lingers on a wide shot of a city and moves to a building and then to a window. We enter the space and explore it. The motion suggests curiosity, but it's also active. In one of the earliest shots in The Equalizer, director Antoine Fuqua does the same thing but reverses the momentum. It begins inside the protagonist's apartment, looking out a window toward Boston, and then the camera pulls back inside the space. The shot serves the same purpose, but the effect is different. It's as if the camera is retreating. We're passive observers in the moment. We don't know what's behind us, but its pull is like a vacuum, sucking us into this more confined world whether we like it or not.

It's a shot that says a lot with a little. There's economy to it, which is also a reflection of this character and the world he has created for himself. The apartment is compact and ordered. There are no decorations—only a bed, a table and chair, shelves filled with books. Right away, we get a sense of the person who lives here—austere, organized, unconcerned with anything that isn't essential. As we tour the place, the impression we get is one of all-consuming loneliness.

We catch the man who resides there in the middle of his morning routine. He shaves his head. He mixes some organic food in a blender. He cleans his shoes with a toothbrush and makes sure his pants and button-down shirt look neat and professional. Bob McCall (Denzel Washington) is also timing this procedure on his wristwatch. He takes the train to his job at a hardware store, gets in a full day's work, hops on a bus to return home, and sits alone—eating dinner, cleaning his plate and glass, and sitting in bed with a book.

So much of the first act of the film is about Bob's habits that we start to anticipate them. We know he's going to wipe down the sink when he's finished washing a dish or his hands, just as we know that he's going to realize he can't sleep and head over to a local diner. He knows it won't help him sleep, but it's part of the ritual.

Another part is to engage in some small talk with Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a teenage girl whose own routine is to sit at the counter, about the book he's reading and her dreams of becoming a singer. One night, she breaks "protocol" and sits across from him at his table. Her face is bruised, and she needs a "quiet voice" to talk to "before things become crazy."

Their conversation is the highlight of Richard Wenk's screenplay (based on the television series of the same name). It's natural in its revelations about these characters. He's a widower whose life stalled after the death of his wife. She has gotten in way over her head trying to survive, working as a prostitute for a ruthless, abusive pimp (David Meunier). This is the essential information, but like the entirety of the film's first act, their dialogue is patient in its details. It finds a rhythm that sets itself apart from the established rhythm of Bob's life.

Then those rhythms collapse. The pimp shows his true nature, sending Teri to the hospital. Bob returns the favor and then some, sending the pimp and his henchmen to the morgue. Teddy (Marton Csokas), a clean-up man with the Russian mob, arrives in town to avenge the killings.

What follows is an extended cat-and-mouse game between two precise and capably violent men. Teddy learns that Bob is responsible for the killings, and Bob catches on to the fact that Teddy is after him when the gangster shows up at his door pretending to be a cop. Both men are proficient killers, but theirs is a battle of wits, not brawn. Each man is a step ahead of the other, and neither is afraid to broadcast his advantage as an intimidation tactic. There's a scene between the two set in a restaurant that simultaneously serves as a mind game and a way to provide Teddy with a back story (Note the way Bob uses the phrase "good man" as a test of his opponent's character). Bob's message is clear: You might think you know me, but you'll never know me as well as I know you.

The film slips in a sequence that gives us more information about Bob than we need. He visits with a pair from his past (Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman), and through their dialogue, we learn that he's more than just a run-of-the-mill vigilante. The background explains what Bob was and why he kills as well as he does, but it does nothing to illuminate who he is or why he kills. There's something far more intriguing to the mystery, especially in the way Washington plays him as a man whose eyes, Teri says, aren't sad but lost. By the time he walks away from a giant explosion in slow-motion, there's very little left of the lonely man who is just trying to do what he thinks is right.

The story treads a familiar path as the conflict between Bob and Teddy approaches the requisite bloodbath of a climax, set in the hardware store and featuring a series of gruesome killings with tools and makeshift traps. It works as a standalone setpiece, but Wenk and Fuqua have made us expect a little more from this character and the material. That's not to say The Equalizer isn't satisfying. It's just to say that the buildup is superior to the payoff.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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