Denzel Washington stars in action thriller ‘The Equalizer’

Grant Pearsall
Staff Writer

An oft abused Shakespeare quote quips, “brevity is the soul of wit.” For those practical folks not majoring in English, it means that effective communication gets right to the point. Antoine Fuqua’s “The Equalizer,” demonstrates this idiom perfectly– It is a solid action film that succeeds by showing, not telling.

We don’t have to be told Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a man of immense discipline and precision. His home is immaculate; his clothing is without flaw. The way he unfolds a tea bag from a handkerchief to slip into a mug of hot water at the diner he frequents speaks volumes. His co-workers at Home Mart, a big-box hardware chain, try to guess who McCall used to be. “I was a Pip,” he responds, sliding easily into a 1970’s dance routine ala Glady’s Knight. His co-workers are left goggling at the possibility, but the audience knows better.

At the Bridge Diner, Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a barely-legal call girl with a sex-wig for every occasion goads McCall over his book. It’s Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.”

“Why did he just let the fish go?,” Teri wonders.

“The old man gotta be the old man, the fish, the fish. Gotta be who you are in this world,” he muses.

Denzel Washington goes up against Russian gangsters in “The Equalizer.”
Denzel Washington goes up against Russian gangsters in “The Equalizer.”

When Teri is battered by her Russian pimp and put in Intensive Care, McCall reveals exactly who he is in this world. The results are equal parts horrifying and delightful.

Fuqua directs “The Equalizer” with a knowledge for what his audience wants. The visual narrative moves briskly without pausing to dwell on Richard Wenk’s screenplay that skirts the edge of routine. The film flows from tense cat-and-mouse thriller sequences into action beats– this all with the same precision McCall uses to unleash brutal improvised violence on the russian mob. It is not important to know how McCall has gained the skill sets of a super-spy, survivalist and master assassin. Whatever the explanation, it would be less engaging than the mystery. It is just enough to know he is Death in dockers and a button down.

‘Teddy,’ is the barely-leashed villain (Marton Csokas), sent by the Moscow mob to root out the vigilante systematically dismantling their organization in Boston.
“Basically he’s a sociopath with a business card,” says a mysterious woman from McCall’s past. The camera has already lingered uncomfortably long on Teddy stomping an irish mobster’s head into a red paste; The measure of this man has long since been shown. If McCall is Death, Teddy is something far worse.

Unfortunately there is little for women to do in this world aside from being prostitutes, victims of violence or damsels in distress. It is a revenge-power fantasy, fueled by stoicism and testosterone. Much like Fuqua’s and Washington’s prior collaboration “Training Day,” this is the realm of bad men doing worse things for the sake of themselves. Women exist to drive the men in the narrative and little else.

The fact that “The Equalizer” has something to do with a 1980’s television show of the same name is baffling. The film is fully formed and succeeds with or without an existing property to buoy it. The final shot awkwardly nods to the show and almost seems like the ending to another, more saccharine movie that does not feature a man having his throat torn open with a pole saw.

“The Equalizer” smartly avoids the narrative excess that drags down many a thriller by running lean. All films are not created equal, but this one is a bloody, violent and charming cut above the rest.

Grade: B