29 September 2014

Review: THE EQUALIZER

As remakes go, The Equalizer bears about as much resemblance to the Edward Woodward TV series The Equalizer, as the Nicolas Cage version of The Wicker Man did to the Edward Woodward film The Wicker Man. Like that remake, this one takes the most basic premise of its source and transplants it to a new story in a modern setting. Namely, Richard McCall is a retired operative with a mysterious past who decides to use his particular set of skills to right wrongs and help out ordinary people.

As played by Denzel Washington, he's a popular employee at a DIY store by day, but by night, he struggles with insomnia and can't help saving the day when he sees bad guys picking on the little people. One such good deed arises from his friendship with a young escort called Teri and culminates in a massacre of the Russian mob's key players on the east coast of America, pitting McCall against the forces of that same powerful international crime syndicate.

Fans of movie production trivia might be interested to know that Russell Crowe got the wheels moving on this one back in 2010. If it had ultimately arrived in cinemas with Crowe in the starring role, it may have lost something. More likely, if it had been Liam Neeson in the lead role, (A Walk Among The Tombstones still playing in cinemas and still unwatched by yours truly, folks!) we'd have known exactly what to expect. Instead, we get a nice demonstration of Denzel Washington's ability to elevate this kind of film just by being there.

Having recently been cast in similar movies to play alongside Mark Wahlberg and Ryan Reynolds, he can carry this one all by himself, bringing the assured humour and understated tough-guy quality which have typified his forays into action cinema, McCall is a one-man A-Team ("if you're in trouble, and no-one else can help...) but there are also similarities to Jack Reacher, but Washington obviously doesn't have to work as hard for his credibility as a super-competent fixer as Tom Cruise did. Mostly though, Reacher and The Equalizer are two star-led adaptations of existing properties, which transcend the usual action movie watermark of underwritten character motivations,

Instead, screenwriter Richard Wenk almost goes too far in the other direction, because it won't do to establish a character once if it can establish them three times over. In the case of Marton Csokas' cunning mob fixer Teddy, this means he's shown to be ruthless three times before he really does anything important- first as he meets the east coast mob, then takes apart a rival mob, then interrogates a call girl. But even characters as incidental as a colleague of McCall's, who is thrice established as trying to lose weight so he can become a security guard, are also thoroughly worked out.

None of this is anything to complain about, especially for an action movie that's being released in September, but the lack of economy is where the high definition on the characters start to make the story feel repetitive. Regrettably, that same care with characters isn't extended to any of the film's female contingent, two prostitutes played by Chloë Moretz and Haley Bennett, who are both fridged in the process of the slow burn. The extended final setpiece does almost make it worth the wait though, even with director Antoine Fuqua's inability to resist such clichés as "cool guys don't look at explosions", slow motion and final fights in the rain. Yes, rain. Even though they're indoors at this point.

The Equalizer owes much of its unexpected pleasure to Denzel Washington's wry and assured screen presence. He's a more vital middle-aged action hero than his aforementioned contemporaries and he's particularly good when facing off with Marton Csokas, who more than redeems his howling mad scientist role in Amazing Spider-Man 2 with his menacing turn here. As for the somewhat overcooked script, the slow burn does serve to build some suspense, but when it all winds up in a predictable splurge of ultra-violence, it looks like a long walk for a short drink of water. Still, it's not without some gleefully stylised setpieces, and for its running time, it's wholly undemanding.

The Equalizer is now showing at cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen The Equalizer, why not share your comments below? If we don't find someone to curate Edward Woodward remakes soon, we'll be up to our balls in jugglers...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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