‘The Equalizer’ Premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival (And It’s Insane)
“If this were a TV show, I’d watch it every single week.” These were the words I spoke right after watching Antoine Fuqua’s theatrical version of ‘The Equalizer,’ which is kind of a dumb thing to say considering that ‘The Equalizer’ was a TV show. Though, this updated version of ‘The Equalizer’ bears little resemblance to the mid-‘80s version, even though it kind of has everything to do with it.
It’s interesting to look at the Wikipedia page for ‘The Equalizer’ television show, because the first sentence of the plot description sounds (a) exciting and (b) an awful lot like the premise for the movie version. But the only thing I really remember about ‘The Equalizer’ series (hence why I find myself looking it up on Wikipedia) is how boring it was -- well, that and Rob Reiner’s Max Belfort loved ‘The Equalizer’ in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’
Fuqua’s ‘Equalizer’ is a lot of things … but it’s certainly not boring.
And Denzel Washington – taking over the role of Robert McCall from the late Edward Woodward – is not a silver-haired British man. (Though, somehow, Washington is five years older than Woodward was when Woodward originated the role.) Washington’s McCall is a somewhat quirky, quiet man who is suffering OCD and is secretly hiding the fact that he’s a killing machine.
This movie is insane, by the way.
When we first meet McCall, he’s just an understated man who likes to spend time at a local diner when he’s not working at a large home improvement-type chain store. When his coworkers ask what he used to do for a living, McCall tells them he was a Pip. (McCall is a little young to be a former member of Gladys Knight’s backing band, but his coworkers check YouTube for verification anyway.)
We never get a full explanation of McCall’s past. In the television series, McCall was formerly part of some sort of U.S. government, which was probably the CIA, because it’s always the CIA. Here some bits and pieces are put together through some later conversations, but, you know what? It was probably the CIA because it’s always the CIA.
Don’t be fooled by the first 30 minutes of ‘The Equalizer,’ which almost lulls you into thinking that this might be some sort of meditation on the complexities of justice. After McCall watches a local prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz, who despite her billing, is barely in this movie) be assaulted by a Russian gang (led by Marton Csokas’s Teddy, who does his best to act crazy, but has a tough time keeping up with the insanity of what’s going on around him), McCall embarks on an almost nonstop quest for revenge that escalates and escalates … and then escalates some more, with each Russian gang member dying a more gruesome death than the one before him. (At one point, just when you think the story has nowhere else to go – basically, who else can McCall kill at this point? -- it almost comically finds another place to go.)
McCall’s OCD is an interesting character trait, we see him often timing himself with a stopwatch during individual bits of carnage, before opening and closing doors a set number of times. As McCall’s killing spree continues, these symptoms seem to dissipate. I’m sure there’s a theme here about how McCall becomes more and more “normal” the more often he kills, but it becomes an increasingly odd touch as this movie seems to drop any sort of theme other than insane destruction.
This is a very odd choice of a movie to kick off the Toronto International Film Festival, but I had more fun watching ‘The Equalizer’ than any other movie I’ve seen this year. To be honest, I’m not sure what that says about me or what it says about ‘The Equalizer.’ ‘The Equalizer’ is surprisingly gruesome, but it’s almost presented in such a way that it becomes even more cartoonish than in, say, ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.’ There’s a scene in which Washington’s McCall blows up a freighter, and of course McCall coolly walks away from the explosion without even acknowledging its existence. But that explosion triggers a chain reaction of explosions -- and of course McCall keeps ignoring them. It almost plays as parody. And I made the decision that I didn’t care if it was parody or not, all I know is that I was enjoying the ridiculousness that I was watching. I reveled in watching villain after villain lose. This movie is stupid, but it’s my kind of stupid.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.