Vengeance is fine

Movie avengers don’t come much harder – or much more fun – than Den­zel Wash­ing­ton’s juiced-up Equal­izer, writes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE TICKET REVIEWS -

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.

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