Movie Review: The Equalizer

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When an acquaintance is badly beaten by her pimp, Robert McCall has to employ skills he’d thought he’d never use again in order to help her.

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Antoine Fuqua, 2014

Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is living an ordinary life. He gets up, goes to his job at a hardware store, comes home, then heads to an all-night diner to keep himself entertained during his insomniac hours. There he meets “Teri” (Chloe Grace Moretz), a teenage prostitute who lives under the thumb of her Russian pimps. When Teri is brutally beaten, McCall uses his special, violent skill set to repay the favour. Unfortunately Teri’s abusers are only the tip of a Russian mafia iceberg, and McCall finds himself getting deeper and deeper into their world…and more than capable of handling himself in it.

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The Equalizer (we never get an explanation for the name, by the way) is a stylish but shallow affair. Denzel Washington seems to be doing his best to have his career mirror Liam Neeson’s – Equalizer being his Taken – and is just as effective an ageing action hero. He gets to be charming and badass in this movie, although his paternal nature can cross the line into patronising, especially when he talks to Chloe Moretz’s “Teri”. Moretz seems to play these damaged, sexualised girls often, which I can only assume is because casting directors see her maturity and decide she’s old enough for it despite her actual age of 17. She does a fine job, but she always does. Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman come in halfway through to provide some exposition and class up the joint (and presumably so the only women in the movie aren’t prostitutes or browbeaten mothers who need “white knight” Robert to come save them), and Marton Csokas is effective as the soft-spoken, unpredictable, deadly “Teddy”.

This is a very poorly constructed movie. As far as the protagonist is concerned, the conflict is over within about 25 minutes – his friend gets beaten, he kills the beaters, he goes back to his everyday life. They keep him on the hook with some crooked cops, but he doesn’t meet big baddie “Teddy” until halfway into the movie or more. Meanwhile, “Teri” (whose real name is mentioned in the movie but she isn’t credited under it, so I can’t remember it) vanishes during that entire conflict. It’s a weird problem that makes the movie feel long and disconnected, which isn’t helped by a number of ideas that are introduced and then dropped (eg.┬áRobert’s stopwatch, which featured heavily in the trailer). Fortunately, the cinematographer and composer are doing the absolute most to keep the movie interesting on an audio-visual level. Locations are filmed adoringly, with people frequently little more than interesting set dressings, or objects for the camera to longingly pan across (see Marton Csokas’s tattooed torso as an example). The violence goes hard, McCall cutting through goons with ruthless efficiency. The soundtrack is alternately brooding and bombastic. The film drags a little before the boss battle, but overall there’s enough in here to keep an audience interested.

The Equalizer on IMDb

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