Vengeance is fine
Movie avengers don’t come much harder – or much more fun – than Denzel Washington’s juiced-up Equalizer, writes
THE EQUALIZER Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Starring Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo 16 cert, gen release, 131 min The key scene in this ludicrous, deafening, hugely entertaining romp comes about two-thirds of the way through. By this stage, we have discovered that Robert McCall is not just an ordinary employee at a Boston hardware store. Given that he inhabits the implausibly lithe frame of Denzel Washington, this information can hardly be regarded as a spoiler, but, lest the viewer be in any doubt, a barrage of disembowelling and explosions will set minds at rest. Robert has just had large portions of his thigh gouged into bloody ribbons.
No matter. He boils up a disinfectant potion and pours it on the wound. Washington’s tiny grimace and faint inhalation suggest the mildest twinge of indigestion. You sir, are Regius Professor of Hardness at Granite University.
The film is nominally based on the TV series from the 1980s, but nothing of any significance has been retained. Edward Woodward played a grumpy old sod who rarely got his own hands dirty. Washington gives us a mentally troubled genius who can, if given a few seconds to reconnoitre, eliminate an entire roomful of thugs with just a propelling pencil and an apple corer. On the surface, he lives the most ordinary of lives. His flat is Spartan. He is reading his way through the great Victorian novels. Each evening, he occupies a lonely seats in a shameless recreation of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks diner.
Robert’s life could, we suspect, go on this way for decades. Then he encounters a young prostitute – these days, if it’s not Hailee Steinfeld (who it’s not) then it’s Chloe Grace Moretz (who it is) – and, allowing the mask to slip, becomes caught up in her unhappy interactions with illegitimate businessmen. Soon Bob has become an all-purpose avenger. The wrath of Hell is ranged against him and the wrath of Hell doesn’t stand a chance.
The Equalizer is, in short, a superhero adventure. The knowledge that nobody or nothing can break McCall removes any sense of peril from the story. But the film is packaged with such hilariously sleek style that it proves hard to resist. It’s mostly secondhand style, of course.
To be fair to Antoine Fuqua, director of Training Day, he makes no secrets of his chief influence: a final surge of Moby’s version of New Dawn Fades gestures conspicuously towards the use of that tune in Michael Mann’s Heat. Fuqua has never before been quite so in thrall to Mann’s blue menace or so taken with his luscious widescreen.
One might argue that the sheer preposterousness of the action sucks all the cool from the enterprise. Then again, it’s hard to imagine the film being quite so much fun if it weren’t quite so off the leash. The depiction of the Russian underworld is, perhaps, too offensive to seem properly funny. Italian-Americans could, when whining about The Godfather and GoodFellas, console themselves with the knowledge that there were more nuanced depictions of their people elsewhere. Hollywood seems unable to imagine east Europeans who are anything other than thugs or prostitutes.
That aside, The Equalizer is more amusingly juiced-up than a charabanc full of drunken Elvis impersonators. Washington has great fun representing a man who is no fun whatsoever. This Equalizer is among the most emblematic of American anti-heroes: he drinks coffee in icons of Americana; he reads Ernest Hemingway; he truly believes that any man can be what he wants to be if he tries hard enough. They should put his face on the $10 bill.