Some actors enjoy success early in their careers (Lupita N’yongo), while others experience a total resurgence after years of acting (Matthew McCounaghey, John Travolta). I’ve noticed that some legendary actors tend to be less selective in the second halves of their career, and the same could have been said for Denzel Washington (2 Guns), until 2012’s Flight, for which he received an Oscar nomination. I was beginning to think Washington’s best work was behind him, because although his efforts on screen are above reproach, the source material doesn’t always deliver. In The Equalizer, Washington reunites with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen), for another gritty, entertaining tale.
Washington stars as Robert McCall, a quiet, unassuming middle-aged man who suffers from insomnia and obsessive compulsive disorder. His afflictions don’t impair him terribly, as he enjoys the contented existence of a normal job at the local home improvement store. His co-workers are fond of him, and he has an affable, positive manner with everyone he meets. His insomnia frequently finds him at the local diner at late hours, when most of Boston is counting sheep. Here he befriends Alina, a young “working” girl whose eyes are tinged with sadness and fear. When her pimp rousts her from the diner one night, it’s all he can do to restrain himself.
Eventually Alina’s profession catches up to her, and her Russian employers brutally retaliate against her for stepping out of line. Washington epitomizes the phrase “no more Mr. Nice Guy,” as he turns into a one man wrecking crew on a quest for vengeance. The playing field between a prostitute and her pimp is never a level one, but McCall is the equalizer and he has his own brand of justice. It’s obvious that he had a very different profession at one point in life, perhaps as a Navy Seal or CIA operative. He obliterates her pimp and his associates, but things get dicier as he fights his way up the criminal food chain.
The story was straightforward and simple. There weren’t many plot twists, and Washington’s singular focus was reminiscent of recent, similarly themed films. My movie companion noted the similarity between The Equalizer and Washington’s Man on Fire, though the latter movie featured greater depth of character, easily. That’s not a criticism, rather an observation. Washington was his charismatic self, but viewers looking for a total departure from his previous work won’t find it here. The simplicity of the script left me questioning McCall’s motivation. I’ll reference another film to make my point. If you’ve ever seen The Punisher, you know that the main character suffered a catastrophic loss when his entire family was massacred. THAT’S the type of thing to set a man on a course for vengeance.
Here, McCall’s motivation for his actions involved a stretch of the imagination, in my opinion. But hey, sometimes it’s a good thing when you don’t have a million different subplots taking you all over the place. Simple can be good. All in all, it was an entertaining film with some authentic fighting scenes and action sequences. The hand-to-hand combat element was fun to watch and added an air of realism. Washington didn’t stretch artistically, but he didn’t have to. He has the presence and ability to carry any movie, and he delivered here for Fuqua. Grade: B.