Equalizer (2014)

A lot of old 80s properties have been resurrected trying to make money off of those of us who have grown up now but remember how phenomenal of a decade it was. I will concede right now that, if you had asked me to list the Top 500 80s Concepts Most Likely To Be Remade Now, The Equalizer (R, 2014) would not have made the cut. Not that the TV version from back then was bad, it just isn’t something I figured would have made enough of an impression to make people want to re-visit it.

Like the TV series, the film has Robert McCall as its main character. McCall (Denzel Washington), although seeming to be just your average worker in a hardware mega-store, has a somewhat shadowy past working clandestine operations for the government but has since retired, having done too many bad things in that life and swearing that he would never go back to such activities. That all changes when he forms a bond with Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young prostitute. When she is savagely beaten by her pimp, McCall tries to take her out of the street life but finds himself drawn into an all-out war with the Russian mob.

To begin with, we should all admit to ourselves that Denzel, for all his accolades as a great actor, has put up some really, really awful films as part of his resume. I actually fear watching his movies for no other reason than it might turn out to be another Pelican Brief or The Siege. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case here.

It’s pretty amazing when you think about how long Denzel has been a real star and that he really didn’t start picking up a lot of true action roles until he was 50. That plays well in The Equalizer, given (a) McCall’s status as a guy with a long, dark past behind him and (b) fans of the original series remembering that the show’s McCall was older as well. I say all this to set up the fact that Washington’s performance here is outstanding. To me, this was a far better outing than Training Day, for which he won an Oscar. There is a fine juxtaposition in The Equalizer between the brooding and tormented McCall who can’t sleep vs. the affable and friendly version he presents to his co-workers at his regular job.

Washington manages this perfectly and switches from joking with his colleagues to compassionate with Alina to intimidating with the bad guys with an uncanny seamlessness. And maybe it’s just that I’m getting older myself, but the action sequences where this older guy wrecks a bunch of younger guys was pretty sweet to watch.

Speaking of seamless, there was a lot of opportunity for this movie to try and do way too much. In addition to the main plot with the Russians, McCall has a couple of “side missions” that he works on along the way. I have to give props to director Antoine Fuqua, who I’ve previously regarded as overrated, for making sure these interludes served a purpose. It’s very tempting to take such interludes too far and wind up with a show that is just a big, slouching mess. Here, they allowed some greater insight into the main character and showed that his looking for redemption wasn’t just isolated to the main plot thread. Once the need to help was triggered, he found himself unable to look away when someone needed him. I know some found this to be distracting. To me, it was absolutely appropriate given the context.

Building off of that, I found The Equalizer to be a very Catholic movie. This can be difficult when dealing with vigilantism, as the Church frowns on such things, but when presented with an environment of utter lawlessness, as is the case in the movie, McCall’s actions can be permissible and even virtuous. And McCall is looking for virtue. He lives an almost monastic existence, centered around routine and asceticism. Once he realizes that he isn’t damaged goods from his past sins, he goes to any length to right wrongs done. He’s basically the Good Samaritan, if the Good Samaritan had tracked down the robbers and kicked the crap out of them.

More than that, though, McCall is merciful. I don’t recall a single confrontation in the entire movie where he didn’t give the wrongdoer a chance to just walk away. Of course, they don’t really take him up on the offer, but the effect is palpable. This is a guy who truly just wants the common good. He isn’t obsessed with revenge. Far from enjoying what he does, he comes off as hating it since it reminds him of the person he used to be. Even with that layer of suffering, though, he still does the right thing.

There is a lot of violence here. A lot. A whole lot. Some of the scenes are more disturbing than others, and it’s not any more than your average action movie. Still, it’s enough for the violence alone to make it an R rating. Naturally, since the main plot involves prostitution, there are lots of sexual references, but you don’t see any kind of graphic content of that sort. Unfortunately, I counted three instances of blasphemy. Granted, these were reprobates using the language, so it’s to be expected of such people. I still hate to see it in a movie. There was plenty of other foul language to make up for it had they left it out. I must mention here, though, that Washington doesn’t curse at all for the whole film. I realize that it’s just another small detail to set the tone for his character, but I find it worth mentioning considering how many of our protagonists these days use such horrible language.

Overall, The Equalizer is a quality action movie with a lot of great Catholic themes that can be associated with it. In a lot of ways, it was pretty much perfect and orders of magnitude better than the garbage that we are typically getting in the genre these days. I’m giving it 2 and ½ tiaras, noting it would have been 3 had it not been for the unfortunate and never-justifiable inclusion of blasphemy.

Review by Throwback. Throwback blogs at Popin Ain't Easy.