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September 24, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

Denzel Washington

What differentiates a trashy, loudly violent action film from an entertaining, genuine guilty pleasure? If there’s a line, The Equalizer walks on it like an acrobat on a tightrope. Antoine Fuqua’s most recent work establishes itself as a crowd-pleaser, leaving spectators in awe, but every fluctuation between nonsense and coherency creates uneasiness and raises eyebrows. One might think: I hope this guy knows what he’s doing. Fuqua’s previous feature, Olympus Has Fallen (2013), felt like that too: an action packed thriller, forgoing all plot consistency, continuity and common sense for the sake of staging uncontrollable mayhem inside the White House.

Since his deservedly acclaimed Training Day (2001), the American director has seemingly found it difficult to keep up with expectations. He has, nonetheless, always had good eye for action scenes, managing to build remarkable and gripping sequences. Much like some of his past works (King Arthur and Brooklyn’s Finest to name but a few), The Equalizer suffers the pains of lacklustre direction. The tasteless use of alarm clock shots to set temporal continuity, or the abundance of dull and redundant digressions, are only a couple of examples. Nevertheless, the film also offers great action, riveting exchanges, and a likeable, cathartic anti-hero.

Denzel Washington is Robert McCall, our protagonist, the guy we’d all want in our neighbourhood watch. He tries to lead a normal life, but his past is quite ambiguous, as two minor characters conveniently point out at the very beginning of the film. We’re never quite sure what he used to do for a living, but we soon find out that he’s good at killing people. To compensate for his brute instincts, Robert has developed a form of OCD that forces him to put everything right. He obsessively checks the time, follows a strict routine, aligns surfaces, equalizes things. Self control, though, only lasts until a ruthless syndicate attacks his friend Teri, forcing him to put his skills back to use. Everyone on Robert’s path to justice (better called revenge) then becomes cannon fodder, in a bloody chase between him and the pitiless mobsters.

If you go see The Equalizer because you like the idea of good ol’ Denzel decimating the bad guys, you will be served, but don’t expect much more than that. There’s little substance beyond the already-held idea of righting all wrongs. There’s very little passion (let alone depth) in the canonical moral messages, clumsily delivered in the banal form of literary quotes. Chloe Grace Moretz and Marton Csokas do a decent job of playing Teri and Russian hired gun Teddy, but Washington outshines both, carrying the whole film on his shoulders with the usual talent. His character comes from an old TV series of the ‘80s, although die-hard fans claim that similarities end there.


Washington’s Robert McCall is a half avenger half psychotic hitman, mixing Taken’s Liam Neeson and Unbreakable’s Bruce Willis. He has no real dramatic depth, but we still like him because we like to see the bad guys get beaten up. Whereas Training Day is all about discovering Washington’s Detective Alonzo Harris, appreciating his dark personality by observing his evolving attitude and actions, The Equalizer settles Robert’s background with two lines of dialogue. While Det. Harris is an Oscar-worthy protagonist with a powerful connection with the audience, Robert remains a tool, merely exploited to fuel the action on screen. If you’re planning to watch The Equalizer, prepare for a factitious thriller with unusual dark comedy shades. You’ll spend hours wondering if you liked it or not, before accepting that, in spite of everything, you actually enjoyed it.

The Equalizer is released in UK cinemas on September 26th

Davide Prevarin