The Equalizer was a 1980s US television hit starring British actor Edward Woodward. It ran for four seasons and had the simple premise that Robert McCall, an ex-spy who once worked for a CIA-type agency, now helped people in trouble. In those pre-Internet times, he could be reached through his classified ad. in the newspaper: “Odds against you? Need help? Call the Equalizer. 212 555 4200.” McCall worked for free. He wasn’t only equalizing the odds for his clients but also atoning for his past sins as an intelligence operative.
The idea of a knight-errant-fixer working pro bono from the goodness of his heart is preposterous, but has its attractions. Woodward’s undeniable screen presence was a large part of what made the series a success. It was only a matter of time before someone thought of rebooting this property. A few years back, the movie version was announced as a Russell Crowe vehicle, Mr Crowe parted ways with the project and it eventually came to director Antoine Fuqua who wanted to do it with his TRAINING DAY (2001) star Denzel Washington.
Washington’s version of McCall is a quiet and contained man who lives in Boston. He has secrets and is looking to redeem himself. McCall works at a Bunnings-like warehouse called Home Mart. He works on the floor and blends in well as one of the team. He has a fatherly vibe and likes to help out his co-workers. Despite this, he lives alone in a small apartment. He has few possessions except for his books. He likes to drink tea and read at a local diner late at night. He occasionally chats with a very young hooker (Moretz) called Teri. McCall feels protective towards her because he sees her as a damaged kid. He becomes even more concerned when he meets her pimp, a Russian mobster called Slavi.
McCall intervenes in Slavi’s business and this sets off a chain of events that leads to his becoming the target of a bigger mobster called Teddy (Csokas). He is as lethal as McCall and doesn’t care who gets hurt or killed in the process of getting his job done. In this case, his job is to remove the obstruction that is preventing crime money moving from Boston and back to Russia. The action and violence heat up from this point. The pleasure of this movie is working out what McCall’s next move will be.
Talking with a fellow film reviewer after the screening, he thought it felt like a violent Tony Scott movie. Washington worked with Scott on a number of projects and indeed his McCall character has a similar feel to his John Creasy the ex-CIA agent in MAN ON FIRE (2004). There are also Bourne and Taken influences, not to mention a very John Woo-esque sequence near the end. Only the slo-mo white dove was missing. Fuqua and screenwriter Richard Wenk have ticked every box on the action checklist in creating their crowd pleaser. The picture is Rated R, but Washington’s usual air of calm maturity that has the effect of undercutting the bloodiness of what is at times a very violent flick.
How much you enjoy this film will depend on whether you can suspend your disbelief at some of McCall’s more Jack Reacher-like moves. He has an apparently infinite skill set that he can call up in any situation. The moment he walks into a room he’s cased all the exits and noted what objects can be turned into weapons and he has observed the positions and attitudes of every potential foe.
Washington has the right Gary Cooperesque stoicism for McCall and the picture relies on this. New Zealand’s Csokas is as intensely present as always. Whether he’s playing a dodgy band manager (Garage Days), an assassin (Bourne Supremacy) or a struggling immigrant in 1950s Australia (Romulus My Father), I always enjoy seeing him do his thing. Chloë Grace Moretz is good as Teri. Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo have cameos as McCall’s former Agency connections.
Check out THE EQUALIZER if you’re in a downtrodden mood and need to see Mr Washington getting even with the criminal scumbags that threaten our peaceful, law-abiding way-of-life. And enjoy the set-ups, gadgets and massive orange explosions that come with a damned good equalization. This one is about cathartic violence, not thought or diplomacy, folks.
THE EQUALIZER opened in Australia today and runs for 131 minutes. I gave it 6/10.