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The Equalizer (2014)

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

3 stars

Bob (Denzel Washington) leads a quiet, disciplined, solitary life. He rises before his alarm clock tells him to; eats little but healthily; is a mentor to his colleagues at the vast hardware store where he works; and befriends waifs like Russian prostitute Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz). If troubles arise, he tries to deal with them in calm, conciliatory way.

And when that fails, he kills – efficiently and very brutally.

Haunted by his previous life, Bob is a retired black-ops specialist for the “agency”, though that hardly does justice to the kind of bad-guy extermination this man can enact. In an age of super heroes, it is not enough to be merely good at killing, or tough. To impress the audience this film is aimed at, you need to be able to slow down time while you execute your perfectly choreographed ballet of butchery, preferably dispatching enemies without using a gun (Bob’s job provides an endless source of A-Team-style improvised weapons).

Don’t get me wrong. Antoine Fuqua has made a seductive and mostly exciting movie which, apart from anything else, looks glossily gorgeous. Marton Csokas makes a satisfyingly cold-blooded opponent, and Denzel’s charm makes him very easy to root for (though am I being churlish if I say he looks a little, err, chunky for this elite operative role?).

But beneath the slickness, there are some problems, though not ones that will damage The Equalizer‘s commercial prospects.

First, he operates beyond any kind of legal framework, executing and torturing under his own authority (a quiet interlude when he visits his former boss at the agency to discuss what he’s doing doesn’t really cut it as proper authorisation). This is justice in the era of Camp X-Ray, or of the kind of rugged individualists who figure that elected governments, police and courts can never get anything done, so you just have to lock and load.

Second, women have almost no agency in this movie (Melissa Leo’s turn as his old boss notwithstanding). Chloë Moretz’s character simply disappears having provided a motivation for Bob to start unleashing hell.

Third – and this a plea that applies to most action movies – can we have some bad-guys who can actually shoot straight?

This last point, plus Bob’s unemotional self-confidence, does tend to reduce the tension a little. We are in no doubt that he will survive and, as the ending makes clear, return for what is surely destined to be a long-running franchise. The producers have probably already scheduled a reboot for 2021.

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