Starring: Denzel Washington (Malcolm X), Marton Csokas (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass), Johnny Skourtis, David Harbour (Quantum of Solace), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Bill Pullman (Independence Day)
Director: Antoine Fuqua (Training Day)
Writer: Richard Wenk (The Expendables 2)
Runtime: 2 hours 11 minutes
Release Date: 26 September (US, UK)
Adapting a TV series to the silver screen is often seen in Hollywood but rarely does it translate very well. There are some great examples of it working like The Fugitive and 21 Jump Street, but then there are mountains of guff like The Dukes of Hazzard, The Flintstones, Charlie’s Angels, Dark Shadows; the list goes on. So how does The Equalizer fare out? Will it even up the score, or are the odds against it?
The film acts as an origin for Robert McCall (Washington), setting up a story that shows how he became the one-man A-Team he is in the show but without delving too much into the character’s mysterious past. The film is an incredibly slow burner, taking its sweet time to get the plot rolling and continuing to drag even once it has, which should increase the intensity but it instead increases the boredom. This is mainly down to an incredibly basic and predictable plot, one that might make a decent episode of the show, being dragged out and embellished with needless sub-plots and details. Clocking in at over two hours, the film becomes a slog to sit through especially during its second act. Once it finally reaches its climax, I’d lost any real interest and just wanted the movie to get to the point already. I think the filmmakers were trying to make more of a stylish action-thriller in the vain of Drive or Leon, but it lacks those films’ unique voices and creativity; other than a couple impressively brutal fight sequences, there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before.
What mainly keeps The Equalizer chugging through its punishing runtime is Denzel Washington’s performance as McCall, bringing his usual natural charm but also imbuing the character with some well-subdued depth. He’s the kind of guy you like even though you don’t know much about him, and his intentions are always well grounded even if his methods are questionable. It makes me wish both Washington and this character was in a much better movie. Marton Csokas plays the stereotypical Russian tough guy with the OTT violence and full body tattoos, who ends up being too much of a cliché to take seriously but far too stone-faced to laugh at. Luckily, two of his encounters with McCall are particular highlights, even though it’s Washington’s performance that’s carrying those scenes. Other than these two, the film has little to do for its other name cast members. Chloë Grace Moretz is set up as an important and interesting character, being the main motivation for McCall to begin his quest, but after serving her purpose she then disappears for the rest of the movie. Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman show up for a couple of pointless scenes that could have easily been cut, Pullman being especially useless. At least Leo serves the purpose of giving an exposition dump.
As mentioned before, the film’s action sequences are decent and full of strong violence but they are few and far between; it takes over half an hour before the first one even rears its head. Sometimes mangled by constrictive cinematography and dark lighting (symptoms that afflicted Antoine Fuqua’s last effort Olympus Has Fallen too), they rely too heavily on the brutality and the use of slow motion. In particular, the film’s use of the old “character slows down time to assess situation and react accordingly” trick is nothing new and has been done far better in some of the Spider-Man films and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes.
The Equalizer suffers from a bloated and banal script that does little to elevate the simple premise of its source material to something worthy of the big screen. Perhaps if it simplified its story into something more swift and impactful, maybe it would have at least been a fun but disposable piece of cinema. Other than the expectedly excellent work of Denzel Washington and a few cool moments smattered about, there’s nothing here to make this movie stand out from the packs of homogenous products clogging the film landscape.
FINAL VERDICT: 5/10