“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” The Mark Twain quote opens The Equalizer and for its protagonist, Special Forces agent turned Home Depot stocker Bob McCall, it seems to be starting a war with the Russian mob. The quote also works as a fitting spark for a superhero origin movie, which, make no mistake, The Equalizer certainly is. More in the vein of Kick-Ass than Spider-Man due to its penchant for ultra violence and death but a superhero film nonetheless.
Bob goes about his life quietly, helping others out around him and spending his nights at a diner with a book due to insomnia. He befriends Alina (an underused Chloë Grace Moretz), a teenager forced into prostitution by the mob. “He’s a man who thinks he’s a knight in shining armor, only thing is in his world knights don’t exist anymore,” Bob says of Don Quijote as the two walk late one night. As obsessed with violent vengeance as the film would become in its latter half the opening act is surprisingly subdued and character driven, even vaguely evoking Taxi Driver in its mood and execution.
Morphing into well-tread action tracks, Act Two begins with an act of evil and swift retribution. Moretz disappears and nameless mob cronies line up to be dispatched or killed in gruesome ways by Bob. Denzel Washington’s screen presence and knack for the monologue are always welcome and this same presence gives The Equalizer much of its propulsion in light of its predictable latter half. Director Antoine Fuqua has a suitable eye for action (a slick scene in a mob-owned bar is a stand out) but seems much more focused on graphic violence. Bob’s Russian foes are disposed of in various unique ways.
At one point during the film Bob springs a trap on an assailing mobster, hoisting him up several feet hanging and squirming inside a noose made of barbed wire. As the man struggles, squawks, and bleeds Bob simply stares back at him coldly. Fuqua does nothing to poke fun at these outrageous deaths, as a Quentin Tarantino would, instead bringing some of Bob’s “justice” dangerously close to torture-porn levels of unsettling. This makes him a psychopath. He resembles Rorschach from Watchmen but Fuqua offers no indication that Bob is anything less than a glowing hero by the film’s end. It’s obvious he isn’t a bad man, and Washington reveals glimpses of McCall’s mental instability throughout the film, but Bob ultimately finds “peace” at the end of dozens of cold-blooded murders.
Antoine Fuqua is certainly a capable director, crafting The Equalizer’s uninspired latter acts into a tight, engaging, and well-paced actioner with the ever-charismatic Washington the focus. I’d like to see the two turn their talents and really study the character of Robert McCall instead of churning out a competent but middling thriller.