“The Equalizer” Review

By Jeff Boudreaux

“The Equalizer” reunites Denzel Washington with Antoine Fuqua, who also directed “Training Day,” the 2001 film which won Washington his Oscar for best actor. The role of Robert McCall couldn’t be more different than that of detective Alonzo Harris. Washington shined in that film playing a brash, crooked cop. In “The Equalizer” he is a relatively quiet minister of justice, with no shortage of crooked cops on the other end of his spectrum.

In this loose remake of the 1980’s television series, McCall (Washington) is a former spec-ops commando now working at “Home Mart,” probably because the producers couldn’t strike a deal with either Home Depot or Lowe’s. I couldn’t help but think about Bruce Campbell’s portrayal of “Ash,” the loyal S-Mart employee from the sporting goods in the original “Evil Dead” films.

McCall is a hardworking man who serves as a mentor to his fellow employees. There’s the overweight Ralphie who is aspiring to become a security guard for the store, but likes to sneak potato chips into his tuna fish sandwich. And there’s the younger guys that work alongside of McCall in the warehouse who constantly wonder what this “old” man used to do. In a scene that sets up a great laugh later in the film, Robert tells them that he used to be one of Gladys Knight’s Pips, and he even has the dance moves to back it up.

While not at work, Robert spends most of his time making his way through a list of 100 great books, a testament to his deceased wife, while spending sleepless nights at his local diner. It is here that he befriends a young prostitute named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz). McCall, or Bob as he likes to be called, is looked upon as a father figure by the girl and even finds out her real name, which is Alina. McCall also finds out that she is an aspiring singer. Unfortunately for Alina, and ultimately her employers, she has begun showing signs of abuse. You see, she just happens to be an escort for an agency run by the Russian mob!

When McCall, who has a very acute eye for detail, sees Alina hauled off by these mobsters one night, he pays a visit to her pimp “Slavi” in an effort to bargain for the girl’s freedom. If Slavi were to take Bob up on his offer of $9,800, then we wouldn’t have a very long film. But, in a room with a half-dozen gun and knife-toting Russians, the unarmed Robert could just walk away and call it a night. Instead, he locks the door. Robert soon finds himself the target of an organization with ties to Moscow and half of the Boston Police Department in their back pocket.

Leading the pack is a Russian assassin named Teddy, played by Martin Csokas who is a rising star in action movies. Fortunately for Robert McCall, he thrives on his re-awakened role as the protector of innocents and declares war on the mob. I can only say that I wouldn’t want to be a criminal in McCall’s world. There’s an interesting scene where one of Bob’s co-workers is robbed at gunpoint and the man insists upon taking a sentimental ring from the cashier in addition to the money in the register. Well, the next scene simply shows Bob returning the ring to the woman’s register before wiping off one of Home Mart’s sledgehammers and placing it back in stock.

It’s that restraint that I admire in this film. Don’t get me wrong, there is no shortage of bad guys receiving their comeuppance and like Teddy Roosevelt; Robert McCall speaks softly while carrying a big stick. Let’s not forget, the man works in a home improvement store.

The film is not without its drawbacks, however. A scene halfway through the movie has McCall calling on a couple of friends from the government, played by Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo, at their home seeking information on Teddy. This segment really stalls the film, even though it provides the closest thing to a backstory we manage to get on Robert. There are also a few holes in the plot at times, but thankfully they really don’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the picture.

I’ve always been a fan of films that employed a vigilante hero. From “Dirty Harry” to “Death Wish” to “Taken,” I think these characterizations speak volumes to a public who fantasize about Charles Bronson or Liam Neeson “cleaning up” their city streets. Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Robert McCall is just the latest in a line of action heroes audiences can unabashedly cheer on. Just remember, the bad guys had it coming.

*** (3 out of 4 stars)

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