Based on the 1980’s television series of the same name, “The Equalizer” follows the story of Robert McCall, a seemingly ordinary man who lives on his own, works at a hardware store, does the daily commute on the bus and visits his regular coffee shop every morning because he can’t sleep. When Robert meets Teri, a girl who has been forced into a life of prostitution, he decides to take a stand against the men who control her and turn to the skills from a life that he has tried to keep hidden into a way of helping Teri and people like her whilst seeking personal retribution for his former life.
I wanted to watch this film from two viewpoints. The first is the fact that I remember the original run of “The Equalizer” starring British actor Edward Woodward when it was screened on British television, so I wanted to see how this film stacked up against the original source material. The second reason is that this film stars Denzel Washington, who I have liked in diverse films such as “Remember The Titans” to “Safe House” and from “Glory” to “Flight”.
The storyline manages to update the story of the original series whilst remaining true to the spirit of the source material. Yes, you get the same core story of a man who seeks to serve justice upon those who warrant it on behalf of people who are powerless to help themselves plus the character’s ability to call upon the assistance of people from his military/intelligence past and his habit of telling a story or parable to the bad guy as a warning of what is to come. But that’s where the similarity ends. Richard Wenk’s screenplay, alongside Antoine Fuqua’s direction and Washington’s acting plays to the actors strengths. Gone are the trappings of the original source material such as the loud, clipped shouting and the Jaguar car, this version of McCall, in my mind, owes a debt more to Gary Oldman’s portrayal of George Smiley in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” of the quiet man who simply wants to keep his head down until he is forced into action – the catalyst being the brutal punishment exacted by a mob of Russian gangsters upon the character of Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz).
There has been comment that this film is a bit of a slow burner, but that is not a bad thing as you don’t see McCall just snap into action. This is a man who gradually sees the wrong that is happening around his life that it becomes a catalyst for his return to vengeance, rather than just an instant snap decision. Once McCall completes his first act of vengeance upon the gangsters, you are taken through two plot strands for the remainder of the film in the way that McCall continues to help people whilst seeking to maintain his anonymity and the game of cat and mouse between McCall and the character of Teddy (portrayed by Marton Csokas), the enforcer who is brought in to find out and send a message on the person who killed the gangsters who beat up Teri.
Denzel Washington holds your attention throughout the film by making the character of McCall a balance between the ordinary and the downright brutal. His performance is interesting as you see the sedate nature of McCall’s home life including his normal work day including making friendships with his work colleagues and carrying out his own “100 book reading challenge” along with his quirks and habits, but then you get the real contrast of him being able to portray the violent nature of McCall’s skills set whilst maintaining a quiet calmness to the character. In effect, Denzel Washington manages to portray McCall at the quiet heart of the storm whilst the violence goes on around him.
Chloe Grace Moretz doesn’t get a massive amount of screen time, but she manages to capture the viewer with the time she has as she manages to portray Teri as a girl who has dreams and aspirations of her own, whilst showing that these dreams are seemingly impossible due to the actions of those who have forced her into prostitution. She also builds a bond with Denzel Washington as the pair build a surrogate father/daughter relationship with McCall seeking to inspire her to change the life that she finds herself in.
Marton Csokas is chilling in the role of Teddy. He portrays the character as being as equal to, if not more violent, than McCall, but whereas Robert approaches his role from a level of cold detachment, Teddy is ruled by his emotions, which is displayed in the way that the character displays his brand of enforcement.
One of the key characters from the original “Equalizer” series was that of Robert’s former boss “Control” portrayed by Robert Lansing. This role has been updated with Melissa Leo in the role of Susan Plummer, alongside Bill Pullman in the role of Susan’s husband Brian. The pair know about McCall’s past and the reasons why he wants to help those who can’t help themselves. In effect, they are the ones who McCall turns to for, in their words, “permission” to carry out the actions that take place in the film’s final act.
One minor supporting character that I want to speak of is Johnny Skourtis in the role of Ralphie. Ralphie shows through the progression of the film of how McCall empowers people to help themselves – firstly, through losing weight so that he can become a security guard at the hardware store and, secondly, through McCall helping Ralphie’s mother by stopping two corrupt detectives in their enforcement of a protection racket. These acts help Ralphie become empowered to become vital to the resolution of the film, and Skourtis sells this empowerment.
Whilst this is a film that could be seen as a “boy’s film”, the themes of a man who seeks some level of peace and atonement for the acts of his past are universal and this does feel like a potential opener for a franchise.
Rating: Sits between “Get In The Queue” and “Wait A While”