Film Review: The Equalizer

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Plot: Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) has made a new life for himself, putting his mysterious past behind him. But when a young girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) is terrorized by her criminal employers, McCall’s violent past takes over once again, making him a direct target of a powerful Russian gangster.

I saw The Equalizer this weekend, and feel as though I did not get “equal value.” As painful as that was to read, I’m not going to feel guilty about it, because this was a chore to sit through. It’s not horrible or anything, it’s just one of those movies you don’t give a damn about. When it’s not relying on violence, it tries to ride Denzel Washington to the finish line, and that was probably the most surprising element of all to this whole movie.

There’s no question Denzel is one of the more talented actors of our time. The man has two Oscars, and probably should have more. While I didn’t have high hopes for The Equalizer, I thought I would at least be guaranteed a good leading performance. But I’m sorry, Denzel sleep walks through this one. Certainly the writing and directing let him down, but we’ve seen elite actors like Liam Neeson excel in movies like these. He’s not bad or anything, but the character is completely underwhelming.

The entire movie is slow as hell, but we’ll get to that. While the first twenty minutes set the slow pace, I didn’t mind it at first. Denzel’s Robert McCall is a likable guy, works at a Home Depot rip-off called Home Mart, and even helps his fellow employee train for the upcoming security guard test. In fact, this was one of the better elements to the film. I liked the bond between McCall and Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis), who ends up playing a key role towards the end. I also liked the slow build between McCall and Teri, played by Chole Grace Moretz. She really kicks start the plot, but after her part is done, you almost don’t see her throughout the rest of the movie, and that’s frustrating. They slowly build up this great relationship, but it’s only used as an excuse to make this guy a bad ass again. To me, that’s awful screenwriting.

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Speaking of awful screenwriting, the movie is littered with it. They establish McCall has a mysterious past that his fellow co-workers constantly ask him about. Of course, McCall ends up being some former ex-government whatever, I don’t know. He fought a lot of people, okay. And that’s the problem. It’s all very flimsy. In the first half hour, there’s no hint whatsoever at what this guy used to be. I don’t like the assumption of “Well, you saw Denzel Washington kicking ass in the trailer, so that’s what he does.” No. The movie needs to play this up on its own. The first scene in which he reverts back to his vicious and violent ways, it just happens. It’s supposed to be this big moment or whatever, but I felt nothing, because the movie does a poor job of foreshadowing this. In Taken, we get a scene of Bryan Mills as the bodyguard. It’s not some big dramatic fight scene, but it’s just enough to plant the seed of who this guy is.

Speaking of the violence, it’s only used to mask the poor character development and lack of energy in the film. I don’t mind over the top violence if it’s used appropriately and fits the story of the movie, but this was a case of violence for the sake of violence. Marton Csokas plays Teddy, the main antagonist. The movie goes out of its way to manufacture his threat level. Aside from giving him a lot of tattoos (how original), we get a scene of him beating an underling incessantly. He beats him so many times, it actually becomes funny as opposed to threatening. It’s just stupid. I’m also convinced they had McCall work at Home Mart as an excuse to shoehorn in a bunch of weapons. This is like Home Alone if it was rated R. I get that McCall was a former bad ass, but the nature of his methods with household items didn’t fit the character at all. Again, this was brutal violence for the sake of brutal violence.

While there’s some decent acting, and the film starts out promising enough, it was ironically when Denzel starts kicking ass that I completely lost interest in the film. By the second half, I couldn’t give two shits. There’s even a big dinner scene between the hero and villain that is supposed to be tense, but I kept looking at my watch. The plot is completely scattered and a mess. They throw in Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman for a big pep talk scene that comes out of no where. They are literally in one scene. Worst of all, the movie is painful to sit through. The third act is drawn out beyond belief. Aside from Denzel’s “meh” performance, I was also surprised by the boring direction, which shocked me as this was the guy who helmed Training Day (Antoine Fuqua), a movie that is anything but boring. There’s even a slow motion explosion walk away shot. Really? Ugh. If you want to see Denzel bash skulls in for a couple hours, I guess you’ll get what you paid for. But for me, I almost forgot about this ten minutes after it ended.

Rating: 5 out of 10 (Barely Passable Entertainment)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.