“The Equalizer” serves up Denzel Washington at his coolest.
Eyes weary with experience but still taking it all in, skull shaved to hide the advancing years, he still carries himself with that feline stride — the greatest, most masculine movie star walk since John Wayne’s.
He’s almost too cool for this film based on the ’80s TV series starring Edward Woodward as an ex secret agent who uses his retirement years to make the world a better place, righting one wrong at a time. Washington’s “Training Day” director treats him worshipfully, reminding us just what a treasure this Oscar winning screen hero has been for the past thirty years.
Robert McCall is a meticulous man, from the way he neatly shelves concrete mix at the home improvement warehouse store he works in to the ordered, spare apartment of shelved books and freshly-washed dishes where he lives.
He brings his own tea bag, carefully wrapped, to his favorite Boston diner when he can’t sleep, a place to read “The Old Man and the Sea” or some other novel from the list of 100 greatest books in English.
And he notices things. Like the fresh black eye that aspiring singer/teen hooker Terri’s wearing. We’ve seen he’s helpful guy, physically coaching an obese colleague to prep him for a physical for a security guard job. He tries to help Terri (Chloe Grace Moretz). And that’s when we discover the past this fastidious, working class man has been hiding.
“Got to be who we are in this world,” he says with a shrug. He sizes up a room full of Russian mobsters, the camera catching the engraved knife one thug is fingering, the bottle next to another, the corkscrew a tattooed, muscle-bound bartender is using. If we’ve seen the Robert Downey Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” movies, we know he’s working out the geometry of a brawl. We what’s coming. And it’ll be bloody.
Washington’s McCall rarely lets us see pangs of guilt, a promise he made to not return to the life of violence. And he never lets us see McCall lose his cool. He gives bad guys –crooked cops, the Russian killer (Marton Csokas) tracking him down — folksy options.
“When you pray for rain, you’ve got to deal with the mud, too.”
The villains, as they do in such morality tales, never do what’s good for them, never take the option that won’t leave them with a corkscrew in their windpipe.
Through it all, Washington’s stillness is emphasized, so much so that the film slows down just to make sure we appreciate the presence and the talent behind it.
And Fuqua, building on material even thinner than last week’s slightly inferior Liam Neeson vengeance-thriller “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” draws this out, announcing “Equalizer” as a franchise in the making.
Which is a shame. He almost turns Denzel, an invited, warmly embraced dinner guest into that guest who doesn’t know when to leave.
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz, Marton Csokas
Credits: Directed by Antoine Fuqua, written by Richard Wenk, based on the TV series. A Columbia Pictures release.
Running time: 2:11
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