Readers of a certain vintage might remember The Equalizer, the 80s television series starring Edward Woodward, but it’s unlikely they’ll remember it being quite as action-packed and brutal as Antoine Fuqua’s full-blooded film adaptation.
Denzel Washington replaces Woodward as Robert McCall, a DIY store worker with a chequered past. Living alone in his modest Boston apartment, McCall barely sleeps and spends the greater proportion of his nights at a 24-hour diner, reading classic literature, arranging the condiments in neat rows and quietly brooding away the hours before dawn.
One of the diner’s few other patrons is Elena, a young prostitute played by Chloe Grace Moretz. When she’s viciously beaten up by her Russian pimp, Slavi (David Meunier), McCall leaps to her defence, using a set of skills that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from an ordinary middle-aged worker from your local branch of B&Q. Naturally, Slavi isn’t without connections, and before long, McCall’s drawn into a bloody war with assorted bent cops, Russian gangland goons, and a dapper villain named Teddy (Marton Csokas).
Director Antoine Fuqua has brought us a varied collection of thrillers and action films throughout his career, ranging from the underrated Replacement Killers, to the superb Training Day (for which Washington deservedly won an Oscar) to last year’s absurdly violent Olympus Has Fallen. Fuqua’s take on The Equalizer is closer in spirit to the latter, albeit with more time spent on developing its characters and less on blowing up famous civic buildings.
Screenwriter Richard Wenk’s plot is as formulaic as it comes, featuring as it does a stoic hero, a female in peril (with Moretz channelling some of Jodie Foster’s vulnerable performance in Taxi Driver) and a range of villains with dodgy Russian accents. But The Equalizer overcomes the familiar set-up of its story thanks to some solidly-staged, visceral action set-pieces from Fuqua, an intense performance from Washington, and some deliciously dark moments of humour, some of which may or may not be intentional.
Marton Csokas slithers around the screen like a predatory James Mason as the central villain, threatening ladies of the night with Faberge eggs and repeatedly punching rival gangsters with such fervour that you begin to fear that a vein in the side of his head might give way under the pressure. It’s a grin-inducing performance, and quite a contrast from Washington’s coiled restraint; after a relatively quiet, character-focused first act, Csokas’ Teddy comes along to kick the plot into high gear. Shortly after McCall’s found an imaginative use for a bottle opener, Teddy flies in from Moscow to find out who’s been offing his Boston fraternity of gangsters, and it’s here that the tension really begins to build.
While Teddy plays detective, and gradually zeroes in on McCall’s whereabouts, McCall’s holding down his day job at the DIY store, helping his buddy Richie (Johnny Skourtis) lose weight, and occasionally stepping out to solve the city’s crime problems with his fists and a range of blunt instruments.
By the time a fresh wave of villains has arrived (look out for one magnificent Russian hipster gangster with a waxed moustache), The Equalizer’s long since departed from its TV roots, and starts looking more like a remake of Straw Dogs crossed with hoary 80s horror The Toolbox Murders. It’s all highly entertaining, even if the second half’s gleeful chaos seems slightly at odds with the sombre tone of the first.
Throughout, Washington holds the screen, lifting his character from stock hero status to something more memorable. His incarnation of McCall has a fair bit in common with another Washington vehicle, Tony Scott’s Man On Fire, but with a different set of OCD character tics, and his own knack for turning just about anything into a weapon. Washington’s convincing when he’s exacting justice, but he’s also endlessly watchable when he’s sitting in a chair and talking.
Although by no means a classic film, The Equalizer’s a highly diverting one, and put together with technical proficiency by Fuqua – he and cinematographer Mauro Fiore bring a pleasingly scuzzy edge to the Boston setting, and add effective, bruising impact to the action.
If The Equalizer teaches us one thing, it’s that here’s nothing deadlier than Denzel Washington holding a length of wire and a hedge trimmer. Gangsters of the world, beware.
The Equalizer is out in UK cinemas on the 26th September.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.