Teddy (Marton Csokas) left, and McCall (Denzel Washington) in “The Equalizer.” Photo by Scott Garfield
Teddy (Marton Csokas) left, and McCall (Denzel Washington) in “The Equalizer.” Photo by Scott Garfield
Arts Featured Rancho Santa Fe

Bloody ‘Equalizer’ doesn’t have thriller status

As an action film, “The Equalizer” manages to draw blood; however, as a thriller film, it tends to do the opposite.

Like Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington has found a new calling in the action genre, which I know mostly by reputation and not necessarily by experience, though I’m not denying the success he has achieved there. That being said, I’m not convinced “The Equalizer” has its feet planted firmly in the action and thriller categories it inhabits. Somehow, for reasons I find myself still struggling to grasp, it doesn’t seem to have a handle on itself.

At first glance, you’d think the central premise — a man with a mysterious past who’s living a quiet new life can’t stand by and do nothing when he strikes up a friendship with a young prostitute employed by the Russian mob — has everything under control. Nope, that’s not what I saw here. So then what does “The Equalizer” control without cracking under pressure?

Well, there’s the obvious one: the action sequences.

Every time Washington makes his move and eliminates his opponents in a systematic manner, the results that we get are one dead body after another. I’ll admit, I was impressed with the cold calculation he brought to his fight scenes; each burst of relentless momentum — by the way, they’re beautifully shot, which means extra points go to the film’s cinematography — crushes everything in his path, be it gangsters or crooked cops.

Even better, Washington never becomes a one-trick pony as he wages war against the criminal underworld. Audiences will enjoy his creative approach to killing bad guys, courtesy of his hidden skills. And on top of that, the film deserves recognition for dedicating a sizeable amount of time to demonstrating the methodical planning that Washington uses to stay a step ahead. Interesting choice, for it emphasizes his character’s thought process.

Alright, now we know what “The Equalizer” has under control. Where does it not rule with confidence? Well, I can think of a few places, all of which have to do with its thriller half.

There’s really not much suspense going on, given nobody can pose an equal threat to Denzel Washington — every armed thug is simply waiting to be destroyed. Despite the dangerous world he lives in, I didn’t detect a hint of vulnerability in any of the deadly situations he encountered. Sure, invincibility may look appealing, but it neither adds to nor enhances what little tension there is here.

On another disappointing note, it was a letdown to see Marton Csokas, who plays the Russian gangster villain, not prove to be a worthy adversary that could cause Washington to feel uneasy. He seemed like the kind of person who could pull it off, especially as the film reveals a few key details about him — but no… they never come in handy whenever Washington shows up and delivers harsh punishment.

Moreover, in terms of plot, Washington’s self-proclaimed crusade kind of fails to remember for whom it is fighting once the victim, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, is more or less out of the picture. Her dilemma with the Russian mob serves as the focal point around which the film revolves, but after Washington decides to take care of her troubling situation, director Antoine Fuqua forgets about her and hardly, if ever, acknowledges her presence.

I would’ve liked to have seen more scenes with Washington and Moretz, so as to strengthen the sole purpose of why he’s doing this in the first place. I mean, what use is there in fighting the good fight when the reason for doing so isn’t present most of the time?

Perhaps the fractured thriller aspects are enough to bring “The Equalizer” to its knees. Then again, maybe they won’t since Denzel Washington has found success with audiences in his pursuit of staking a claim in the action genre. If you aren’t bothered by these issues and are only interested in seeing resourceful Washington-oriented action, I’ve got no problem with that. Should you decide to heed my advice, however, at least you’ll have something to consider before making your choice.

MPAA rating: R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references.

Run time: 2 hours 11 minutes

Playing: In general release

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