Approach this film version of the iconic 1980s TV series as a reboot – not a 2014 remake, and you won’t be disappointed. The fact that popular US actor Denzel Washington is in the lead role formerly brought to life by Brit Edward Woodward should pre-empt this too. There are still similarities in concept for fans – such as the aging anti-hero on a rough justice spree (minus the trademark mac though) – but the rest is in the hands of Training Day director Anton Fuqua who teams up with Washington again on this. The Equalizer may take time to brew then come to the boil, but Washington shows he’s not done with action roles yet either.
McCall (Washington) is a hardware store worker who quietly goes about his day job then comes home to an empty and orderly apartment at night. In the early hours he takes a teabag in a folded napkin with a book to read in the local café. He befriends a young girl called Terri (Chloë Grace Moretz) who dreams of being a singer but is a high-class escort under the control of Russian pimps. One night Terri never shows up, setting McCall in motion to find out why. He crosses paths with a Russian crime gang, triggering his former ‘secret’ past existence, in order to bring justice to those who are vulnerable.
With an action director like Fuqua on the project, you would be forgiven for thinking this would be a rapid display of one action-packed scene following another. However, it’s as though the director wants us to properly experience McCall’s controlled and deliberately slow pace of life as we are subjected to a whole lot of McCall/Washington contemplation. McCall’s OCD-like seconds-counting is equally important to show McCall’s inner restraint – while blatantly toying with our own patience. But we do need the calm before the storm so we can be suitably shocked by the violence that suddenly erupts.
Indeed, when the action does ignite, the director makes sure things are snappy and equally bloody/brutal, making Washington seem in the prime of his youth through clever editing. The best revenge part is at the end when all the baddies descend on McCall’s place of work. There’s immense satisfaction to be had watching McCall/Washington dispense with the Baltic evil using an array of handy tools – as silly as the slow-mo titillation gets, it IS pure thrills. In fact the appetite to see someone ‘get things done’ in an unstable real-life world is part of that gratification perhaps. Washington has also earned the persona of a person we can trust too.
The baddies are all out of the ‘Russian gangster handbook’ though. Interestingly, the middle ‘mad man’, Teddy, played by Marton Csokas (Covert Affairs, Sin City) – strikingly like some Hungarian Kevin Spacey in menacing mode – is McCall/Washington’s main nemesis here, making an intriguing opponent, however caricature-like with the obligatory Russian prison tattoos. As McCall gets to the top of the rotten apple tree, however, to confront the big boss (whose name ironically bears a resemblance to the Russian president), things come to, too abrupt a conclusion.
Added to which, Fuqua is guilty of padding out the plot when it’s not really necessary with superfluous characters, like the overly long stay at the Plummers’ grand residence (she a former Secret Service head, played by Melissa Leo, and Bill Pullman as hubby). Although interesting to witness McCall in his former working environment, they serve little else in terms of a plot driver that couldn’t have been nicely nipped and tucked to propel us onto the really gritty parts.
Still, Washington is so highly watchable in this beautifully-shot reload, and as the finale might suggest, could secure him an action sequel, the likes of which Liam Neeson probably hoped for with Taken (2008). That’s not a bad thing given Washington’s screen appeal and affability; The Equalizer is a sure thing at the box office. It’s not perfect, but neither is any vigilante and let’s face it, we’re in dire need of a hero to rely on and cheer for in the current global reality.