********* 7 out of 10 *********
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Actors: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz
Action movies come in different packages. Take for example this year’s The Expendables 3. The movie opened with a helicopter pursuing a train, lots of gunfire to rescue a convict, and the train eventually exploding inside a castle-like prison. Those were just the opening minutes. Movies like these come out of the box screaming and kicking, wasting no time in getting the action going. Now consider something like The Equalizer. The movie opens with a shot of a bedroom where the alarm clock stars ringing, the camera pans away to the other rooms, eventually showing us a man getting dressed. Then we are taken to his workplace where he comes across as amicable who gets along with his colleagues. Then there are shots of him reading books in his house and then at a restaurant across the street. For a substantial period, the movie may feel as a drama film, slowly building up to the moments of ‘action’. The calm before the storm. These kind of action movies are not selling the action fights alone, but are selling you the movie’s character and his story. If done right, you will get sold on the idea of learning more about the hero before he charges into the mayhem which is to follow. Thankfully, The Equalizer gets the mix right between the calm and the storm, elevating the movie beyond just a slaughterhouse, on the back of another impeccable performance by Denzel Washington and some masterful direction by Antoine Fuqua.
The Equalizer narrates the story of Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) who works at a hardware store. But McCall’s history is more violent than the people around him could imagine, a history he has left behind. The newly found peaceful life of McCall is about to change when a teenage girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) whom he befriends at a diner gets badly beaten up by her pimp. Unable to look away, McCall seeks justice, though even he has little clue of the forces that he has rattled with his actions. McCall’s skills from his mysterious lost years are the only thing that can now keep him alive.
The Equalizer is based on the television series of the same name which ran in the 1980s. Richard Wenk’s screenplay takes a lot of the elements from the TV series and recreates it in the newer surroundings of today. There are quite a few things that I liked about the screenplay, like its patience in not jumping into the action mode too soon, and also its side-by-side depiction of Denzel Washington’s knight-like actions as against the villain Marton Csokas’ growing viciousness. Director Antonie Fuqua, who worked before with Washington in Training Day, handles the script well, building the tension slowly, which keeps you wondering as to ‘what’s next’. He allows both his central characters, Washington and Csokas, to shine, and shifts the focus gradually towards a personal duel. The background of both the characters, especially that of McCall, gets unraveled at its own pace which adds to the intrigue. The action in itself may feel a bit underwhelming, though that opinion may vary from person to person. The few scenes which are present though, are stylish and uncompromising in their brutality. The music by Harry Gregson-Williams also adds to the tension and keeps the serious tone of the film alive. The few chuckles that may come your way also carry a morbid touch. Antonie Fuqua does not seem to want to trivialize his action movies!
The movie though would not have been half as appealing as it is now if not for the presence of Denzel Washington. This amazing actor has done many action movies in the past, filled with intense roles, and yet he adds something extra, something new, to the next one that comes his way. In The Equalizer, partly due to Fuqua’s direction and partly due to Washington’s performance, Robert McCall instantly becomes a character you want to know more about. His love for reading, his obsessive compulsive behavior to arrange things neatly, his kindness to help people out, these are the traits that make him a richer character on the screen rather than just a killing machine. The fact that he kills without using a gun doesn’t make him any uninteresting either! Washington’s intense gaze is not something we are new to, but they still continue to hit the bullseye. Probably he would be the last one of the action heroes left who can still make the slow-mo walk from a blast look cool. An enthralling performance indeed!
Much adulation should also go to the performance of Marton Csokas, the New Zealander who plays the Russian gangster with ease. Though there are several cliches in the actions of his character (and I had thought the overdose of Russian villains in Hollywood was a thing of the past!), Csokas paints a creepy and powerful figure who is worthy of going head-to-head with Denzel Washington. There is one scene in particular when these two actors come face-to-face for the first time outside Washington’s apartment, where the surge of energy is so strong that it can be felt by you! Chloë Grace Moretz has a much shorter role in the film that what I had thought, but she cuts out a sympathetic figure as the teenage prostitute without making it come across as a ‘damsel in distress’. Her chemistry with Denzel Washington sets the tone for the events to follow. Brief roles for Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo would also be a delight for anyone who has been watching Hollywood cinema for a long time, though there isn’t much they contribute in the film.
The Equalizer makes for an intense and gripping action movie, compromising at times on the action doses so as to build on its characters. Some may like it this way, some may want it the other way. But take nothing away from Denzel Washington’s performance filled with steely gazes and Antoine Fuqua’s direction mixed with stylistic flourishes. Work on a sequel may already be underway, and as long as the hero-director pairing remains, I would not mind a second bite at this one.