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Saturday, September 27, 2014

REVIEW: THE EQUALIZER (2014)


SYNOPSIS:
In The Equalizer, Denzel Washington plays McCall, a former black ops commando who has faked his death to live a quiet life in Boston.  When he comes out of his self-imposed retirement to rescue a young girl, Teri (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz), he finds himself face to face with ultra-violent Russian gangsters. As he serves vengeance against those who brutalize the helpless, McCall’s desire for justice is reawakened. If someone has a problem, the odds are stacked against them, and they have nowhere else to turn, McCall will help.  He is The Equalizer.

REVIEW:

I know who the late Edward Woodward was, and I may have seen a few of his works over the years. However, I was pretty young at the time the CBS TV series, The Equalizer was a popular show in its heyday, and I've only ever seen bits and pieces of the show so I can't really offer an informed opinion on its full tonality in comparison to the latest feature-length counterpart from Sony/Columbia Pictures. Although, what I can offer is my take on the work presented here by filmmaker Antoine Fuqua in this, his latest return to the set with award-winning actor Denzel Washington following their initial collaboration on the 2001 crime drama Training Day. Well, hopefully you have already seen the latter as a preamble to this newest venture, which has already gotten off to a great start at the box-office, making the prospects of a sequel all the more promising.

Washington plays Robert McCall, a man, to say the least, with a past he's spent a pretty long time letting go of. He generally lives a peaceful day-to-day, monastic existence, waking up every morning with every task timed to a T. He works at Home Depot and enjoying his lunchbreaks, gets along with his co-workers very well and is a good Samaritan to his fellow man when called a upon, and he also reads books and drinks tea at the same diner whereupon he often engages in scant conversation with Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a Russian call girl who mainly keeps to herself. But, there is also another layer to McCall, one mired in a past riddled with turmoil, loss and pain from his previous life as a special forces intelligence agent, a life which he once promised a woman he loved that he would never use while in search of a different life.

As fate would have it, McCall suddenly finds himself back in action when Teri becomes a victim of a brutal beating at the hands of her pimp, forcing him into a conflict of interest, and one that re-opens his intolerance to injustice and suffering. He lives by a code, a code that has granted him a particular set of skills that make him a force to be reckoned with, especially in a life or death situation. Incidentally, he applies that skillset accordingly in a fatal confrontation with the pimp and his men when they reject McCall's generous monetary offer in exchange for Teri's freedom. Needless to say, the bodies start piling up, and what once seemed like a contained threat is now blown wide open when a Russian crime boss overseas sends his  pointman, Teddy (Marton Csokas), to investigate by any means necessary.

Now, time is of the essence with McCall and Teddy digging deeper in their battle of wits against one another, and soon enough, McCall's own investigation opens a door to an entire criminal network involving drugs, money laundering, human trafficking and police corruption. With McCall now dispensing his own brand of justice with impunity, he's become an unscratchable itch for Teddy. But Teddy has plans of his own, some which could mean life or death for those McCall cares for most.

The Equalizer premiered in celebratory fashion earlier this month at the Toronto International Film Festival. I was not in attendance as I'm currently superglued to the daily grind in New York City, but I did see a few videos online with Fuqua and Washington leading a Q & A panel. There, among other things Fuqua discussed, he also expressed how instrumental the camera itself can be as a character of its own in a film. I've seen most of Fuqua's films, including his collaboration with Hong Kong action auteurs, John Woo and actor Chow Yun-Fat on The Replacement Killers. I thoroughly enjoyed Fuqua's application of camerawork in enhancing the signature "bullet ballet" style of action that makes watching a Woo/Chow action clasic so memorable, even though this particular film didn't fare really well at the box-office at the time. But it put Fuqua on the map for me as a director, and his perception of camerawork remains intergral in his vision for storytelling. Some may like it more than others, but I like what he tries to accomplish this time around, with certain shots to help embody the world of The Equalizer.

Washington is a fun actor to look at. Instinctively, the 2007 segregation-era drama, The Great Debaters is the first thing that comes to mind among other titles when I think of him, in addition to the Civil War epic, Glory, Mo' Better Blues, American Gangster, etc., and I am sure the list goes on for some. Furthermore, his on-screen chemistry was nice to see with Moretz, an actress with impressive talent whose presents a soulful performance while appearing in just little over third of the film. I like Moretz as an actress, and not just because I liked seeing her in her on-screen persona as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2; She could be a six year old playing a middle-aged case worker for all I care and still take my money, because that's how good she is.

In addition, the supporting roles here were also pertinent to the delivery of this film in its endeavor as the preamble to a hopeful sequel. Actresses Hayley Bennett, Melissa Leo and Anastasia Mousis, and actors Bill Pullman, David Harbour and David Meunier all did well as the heart and soul of this cinematic world in their respective good and evil, and conflicted roles. I do have to give credit where it is due though, and that goes primarily to actor Johnny Skourtis who plays Ralphie, an humble Home Depot on the receiving end of McCall's council in dealing with issues at home and work. If there is one thing I love most about a script, it is one with a supporting character that doesn't slow the movie down with so much overbearing (and often over compensating) silliness and stupidity. Screenwriter Richard Wenk has all my respect in this aspect, and I thank him for not treating this character the way some directors have in the past, and sadly still would. Otherwise I would have spent most of the movie irritated, rolling my eyes and shaking my head, and reflecting on the film with a review that wouldn't be so upbeat as it has been so far, and if you're reading this, I thank you in advance before I finish.

Csokas first popped on my radar opposite actor Vin Diesel in xXx as a James Bond-style comic book villain, and this film was my second big screen observance of him as, again, a villain. He was easy on the eyes this time as McCall's nemesis, whose character has a layered past, as well as a skillset of his own to match. Some might feel that anyone could have played this role, although I digress, and maybe even disagree. Csokas was great for this role, and I'm curious to see what happens to him in later films to come.

As for the action, some also have their own opinions about it. Personally, while there are portions of it deserve criticism, Washington is great to see on screen as an action hero nonetheless. He is constantly able to adapt to an environment that allows him to bloom as a badass when needed, with no cheesy macho one-liners and plenty of gruesome kills that will please fans who want to see mainstream Hollywood continue to allocate more R-rated action thrillers like it.

If you enjoyed movies like Man On Fire, The Book Of Eli and Safe House, The Equalizer will service you quite well. It's not a perfect action film, and there are always areas for improvement along the way, but it's another great and worthy step forward for the Fuqua/Washington duo; The two are also going to work on a remake of The Magnificent Seven as well. Say what you will about remakes, but I look forward to this one, especially with Fuqua's evolving style of direction.


See The Equalizer now in 2D and IMAX.

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