‘The Equalizer’ review: Denzel Washington is every reason to watch this film

Denzel Washington as Robert McCall in The Equalizer
Denzel Washington as man-with-a-secret-past Robert McCall in The Equalizer

The Equalizer is an old school vigilante action thriller. (How old school? There is a classic “walking away from an explosion” scene, in slooooow-moooooo.) Seen one, seen it all, maybe, but watch this — because Denzel Washington is utterly cool, and so effortlessly *badass* in it.

The movie at first pretends that it is more than what it is by taking an unusually long time on character introspection: building up our protagonist’s unassuming, quiet nature, his exceedingly ordinary day job at a Home Depot-knockoff, his genial and encouraging interactions with his coworkers. But when he sees an underage hooker he has befriended in the quiet hours of the night, played by Chloë Grace Moretz (who really isn’t in the movie as much as the trailer and synopsis would have you think), being ill-treated by her Russian pimps, he is unable to stand aside, and the movie’s true nature, as well as McCall’s special ops past, bursts forth in a brutal yet controlled scene that I have watched four times, and still enjoy every time, because it’s that great.

Chloe Grace Moretz and Denzel Washington in The Equalizer
Chloë Grace Moretz (Teri) and Denzel Washington (McCall) in The Equalizer

Even after that bloodbath, the movie tries to paint him as different from other vigilantes because McCall looks truly sorry that he had to resort to his violent past, which he wished to leave behind, to deal with these criminals — but after that first hurdle, he is no longer hesitant about unleashing his meticulously planned, stoic justice on the scumbags of the world, including a superbly menacing Marton Csokas who plays the psychopathic enforcer in a Russian mob, who is dispatched to find out why five of their members are dead in a professionally executed murder.

Marton Csokas as Teddy in The Equalizer
Marton Csokas as Russian mobster Teddy in The Equalizer

The action scenes are unrelentingly vicious, but they are so hyper-stylised that I don’t feel anything at all, because at the back of my mind is always the knowledge that none of it is real. Or maybe I’ve just watched too many violent movies that I’ve become desensitised. I’m not sure which is it.

The score is great too, full of action beats that scream “DENZEL IS SO COOL”. And cool he is: every look he levels is imperturbable — chilling, if you’re on his wrong side — and every movement he makes is calm and collected, even as he is laying down Home Alone-style traps in the climax of the movie at the Home Depot, though the mobsters hunting him down suffer a gorier end than Macaulay Culkin’s burglars did.

The Equalizer is Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua’s reunion since their last team-up, Training Day, created history and made Denzel the first black actor to win the Oscar for Best Actor. The Equalizer has received no such critical acclaim, but it is an enjoyable watch — if you like male-targeted, violent fantasies headlined by an incredibly charismatic actor, which I do.

Director Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington on the set of The Equalizer
Director Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington on the set of The Equalizer.

Apparently, a lot of people are complaining that the movie is nothing like the ’80s TV series that it is based on. I didn’t watch the latter, but it does sound almost nothing like the movie. It’s a mystery why Sony Pictures even bothered getting the rights to remake the TV series in the first place, when they could have renamed the movie and its lead character something else, but who can fathom what these big studios think?