Friday, October 31, 2014

Film Review: The Equalizer

I am a fan of action movies, especially with smart protagonists.  I am not averse to violence.  In fact, I rather enjoy an over-the-top, bloody spectacle.  I'm not that difficult to please here.

What is so interesting to me about Denzel Washington's latest film, The Equalizer, is that violence is so unexpected and welcome.

The story revolves around Robert McCall (Washington), a single man living a monkish existence working at the movie equivilant of Home Depot.  He is amiable and mentor-like, but his life is a tinged with sadness.  He strikes up a strange sort of friendship with an underage prostitute named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) who he sees nightly in the local diner.  When her "handlers" put her in the hospital, Robert decides to help out.

By this time, the story has been working on a very slow burn.  Washington plays Robert with retiring grace and restraint.  But when his encounter with Teri's bosses goes poorly, Robert unloads a hellfury of action in a neatly calculated and destructive manner.  At this point the story picks up as Robert becomes more and more involved in the daily injustices around him.  But this brings down the wrath of the Russion mob, who sends an enforcer named Teddy (Marton Csokas) who is just as violent and intelligent as Robert but with none of his scruples.  These two powerful forces are set in opposition to each other like a bloody chess game.

Director Antoine Fuqua knows when to use restraint and when to go over the top.  His slow burn beginning might be fatiguing to some, but I found to eventual release of violence to be immensly satisfying.  And he continually ups the ante throughout the film.  He does allow quieter moments to have their power too.  The scenes where Robert and Teddy talk are potent.

This movie is a reminder of why Washington is a star.  He can command the screen like few actors working.  And even at his age, he has lost none of his power and potency.  Like Liam Neeson in Taken, Washington has an edge that only older actors have.  He is world-weary and tired.  There is no thrill in the violence for him, but he has survived long enough to do what needs to be done efficiently.  Csokas is also deliciously evil as Teddy.  All of his scenes are filled with danger and menace.  He reminds me of early Russel Crowe.  Moretz and the other actors are passable, but nothing special in this film.

The film meditates a bit on nature vs. nurture.  Are we who we are by choice or by fate?  Robert fights his violent skill set because he fears the darkness.  But can he make that vice into a virtue?  It reminds me of something I read once where God can take our faults and use them for a good end.  If we have a temper, we can focus that anger on injustice.  If we are stubborn, God help us be stalwart in faithful resolution.  Robert is a violent man.  But can he use that violence for a good end?

So if you enjoy healthy dose of violence and some star-quality acting, then check out The Equalizer.

4 out of 5 stars.

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