The Equalizer, 2014.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua.
Starring Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz, Marton Csokas, David Meunier, Haley Bennett, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, David Harbour, and Robert Wahlberg.
A man believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and has dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when he meets a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t stand idly by – he has to help her.
There’s a scene towards the end of The Equalizer where the stakes should be at their highest. The bad guy is about to kill an innocent man and, right on cue, in walks our hero, Denzel Washington. Water pours down from the sprinkler system overhead, he has a nail gun raised and poised to pull the trigger. The entire scene takes place in slow motion, the thunderous and obnoxious score blasts out, and I believe the idea from director Antoine Fuqua is for the audience to be thrilled, or even surprised that Denzel is here to save the day.
I laughed out loud for The Equalizer had gone into full blown parody of an action thriller. It might not be so sad if it weren’t played with such a straight face.
If The Equalizer has one thing going for it, it’s that it’s the most unintentionally hilarious film of the year and will serve a generation of film makers as a template of how not to create tension, shoot an action scene, or give the audience a single reason to care. Since making Training Day in 2001 Antoine Fuqua seems to be doing his damnedest to erase memories of the quality of his breakout movie and is going out of his way to prove he’s a hack. His films serve as an evidence list for reasons why the pure action genre is on its arse; Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen, and now The Equalizer. I might not be so critical of the man if his other efforts weren’t King Arthur and Brooklyn’s Finest, but alas that’s the standard of cinema he has chosen to make.
The major issues with the film lie with Fuqua for his idea of how to tell a story and what looks ‘cool’ is rooted deeply in the past decade when everyone was overusing super slow motion and a booming metal/rap/techno score to make the films edgy (think Romeo Must Die, Exit Wounds, Swordfish, xXx and those terrible sequels to The Matrix). At one point Denzel even walks away from a clearly digital explosion, where every footstep takes ten seconds to complete. I was reminded of the Andy Samberg parody music video ‘Cool Guys Don’t Look At Explosions’ (watch it here if you’ve no idea what I’m referring to) which mocked this trend five years ago, yet Fuqua merely serves up footage should Samberg ever want to make an extended cut of the video. There are few things more annoying in movies than over used slow motion to mask the lack of creative talent but Fuqua has nowhere to hide here.
Slow motion is one thing, but when the entire film seems like it’s been playing for an eternity you have to blame the director again, especially in a genre such as this, if the movie is dragging when it should be accelerating. The final act is so long and without any tension whatsoever one cannot understand how all involved didn’t see the problems. You cast Denzel Washington because he has a certain charm and charisma so few leading men have and I for one will watch anything he is in, but this film gives him nothing to work with and turns his character into a bloodthirsty psychopath out of a slasher movie rather than a hero we can root for. Are we supposed to enjoy watching him pick off these bland villains for hire in the nastiest ways possible, because they are nasty people? Perhaps if there was some characterisation for either hero or villain but there is not; the villain is brutal and beats people up because there is nothing else written for him to do and this fills the time until the inevitable and stretched out conclusion.
And what of Denzel Washington as the titular character? His is the the worst sort of creation, not mysterious enough to be intrigued by, nor are his actions any different to any other vigilante we’ve seen in movies before. The screenwriter throws in a few lines about ‘being who you’ve got to be’ and ‘getting peace’ from the killings, but there is simply nothing here to convince us that this isn’t just another sub-par revenge thriller. Nothing he does is any different to the usual low rent action picture; fast moves, guns, knives, bone crunching are all ticked off but it’s all in service for nothing. Editing has become so furious and burred that actors like Denzel Washington and Liam Neeson can pass as kick-ass tough guys in trash like this and the two Taken films without stretch themselves or the fight choreographers, yet it’s the lovers of great action thrillers who suffer by watching it.
The biggest let down of all is that I actually quite enjoyed the first fifteen minutes and believed the film was going to be far more like Denzel’s own Man On Fire or a modern Death Wish than the trash it ended up becoming. The film starts off well as we get a sense of characterization through small scenes and a decent relationship between two people who walk the streets at night, but for very different reasons; Denzel’s character obviously has a past he wants to forget and I liked the fact that he is a good man, well educated, doesn’t curse, wants to help people even if the girl he befriends (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a cliché right out of the book of movie clichés; a hooker who wants to get out but can’t. Their relationship is established before the film begins, so when bad things happen to her we believe he is angry and hurt. All this good work unravels with every scene which follows as soon as the vigilante aspect begins; we don’t even see Mortez again until the very end, all ties to the relationship cut in favour of one-note villains, corrupt cops, and uninteresting subplots which add time when the film desperately needed to shave minutes off.
At one point Denzel says all the killing will bring him peace, yet the film ends with him answering cries for help online, clearly craving more bloodshed and leaving the door wide open for sequel. I’d hate to see Denzel turning into another Liam Neeson where subpar action films are churned out every year, but with this, 2 Guns, Safe House, and The Book Of Eli all coming in the last four years, he’s heading down the wrong path and sadly Tony Scott is no longer with us to lend a much needed helping hand.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter.