Friday, September 26, 2014

Fall Flicks: The Equalizer

Poised to dominate this weekend's box office is the latest "one man versus the world" action/drama/revenge flick, The Equalizer.  13 years after Training Day, director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington reteam for what should be a profitable and franchise starting thriller.  Based on the 1984 television show that starred Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, a retired intelligence agent turned private detective who helps clients equalize the playing field, the film adaptation takes place in modern day Boston and finds McCall up against the Russian Mob.  Based on Richard Lindheim and Michael Sloan's 4 season hit, 16 Blocks and The Expendables 2 scribe Richard Wenk and director Fuqua craft a slow burning, stylized, entertaining and brutal thriller for adults. 

We meet Washington as McCall one early morning where he's out of bed before his alarm goes off, meticulously preparing for the day cleaning his shoes, making a healthy shake, etc.  We watch him go about his day and help his co-workers at the local hardware super store where colleagues try to guess what he did in his former professional life.  Unable to sleep at night, McCall frequents a 24 hour diner and befriends street walker Teri (Kick-Ass' Chloe Grace Moretz).  After a vicious beating from her pimp sends her to the hospital, McCall makes the fateful decision to try and buy Teri's freedom which leads to a bloody confrontation.  The Russian syndicate dispatches intelligent and dangerous fixer Teddy (effectively played by Marton Csokas, who reminds me of Kevin Spacey mashed with Russell Crowe) to find out what happened.  With a confrontation looming, we witness McCall display a particular set of skills picked up as a former operative of the CIA or some other shadowy government agency.

While we all expect these kinds of movies to become Tooken which in turn was a simpler, faster take on Washington's own revenge tale Man on Fire, The Equalizer takes it time to get to the action but it's not an all out explosion fest although there are some explosions and walking away from said explosions in slow motion.  The character building doesn't feel forced or boring and when shit starts to go down, you're in.  The film doesn't take an hour to build up to some crazy, non-stop climax or feel the need to flip a switch and go from drama to action movie to reward the audience for putting up with dialog scenes.  Denzel is his usual solid self, delivering quiet strength, intelligent support and "kill your ass dead" physicality when called upon.  I was slightly disappointed he didn't utter "My man" or "I'll guarantee ya that" but whatever.  The fight scenes are realistic, brief and impactful with mostly small scale stuff involving fists, knives, a few guns and power tools.  No overly choreographed fight scenes here which was kind of a bummer at the end as I was hoping McCall and Teddy would duke it out a little bit as we're shown how physically proficient they both are through the movie.  Denzel was looking a little paunchy here, I figured a character with his background would be a little leaner but hey, the dude's pushing 60.  Melissa Leo shows up for a hot minute as an ally and for an even briefer minute we get Bill Pullman from Independence Day and Lake Placid as her husband in some randomly awesome casting.

Fuqua again demonstrates that he is one of the best action directors working today.  Starting with 1998's The Replacement Killers into Training Day, Tears of the Sun, King Arthur, Shooter, Brooklyn's Finest and recent hit Olympus Has Fallen, Fuqua knows how to make a picture look good, fill it with a great cast and provide some shocking action and violence without going into overly cartoon territory.  It will be interesting to see what he and Washington come up with for The Magnificent Seven reboot.   The Equalizer is a pretty simple and straight forward flick but never feels too serious or ponderous and I'm all for a sequel.  It's an interesting progression and continuation of the one man army motif that we've seen played in various ways from Charles Bronson taking it to the criminals of New York in Death Wish, Stallone winning the Vietnam War with a machine gun in Rambo or Liam Neesons tearing through France looking for his daughter to Matt Damon's Jason Bourne racing and fighting his way to the truth.  The Equalizer is more enjoyable than last week's adult thriller with Neesons, A Walk Among the Tombstones and it's moody yet vibrant attitude strikes a better balance than the upcoming near over stylized and brooding Keanu Reeves "hitman on the rampage" flick John Wick (that one has a lot more action though).  Washington has one of the best track records in Hollywood with 14 films opening above $20 million in the last 14 years.  Some might take cracks at his choice of fare and similarity of characters but upon closer inspection you see that's he's challenged himself and entertained us with roles as a desperate father, football coach, crime lord, alcoholic pilot, law enforcement officer and many more over the last couple of decades.  He's just good at playing confident without needing to swagger.

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