“The Equalizer” opens with a quote from Mark Twain saying that the two most important days in your life are when you are born and when you find out why. This introduces the major theme of the film: that it’s up to us to figure out our role in life. Are we the person we’re meant to be? If not, then it’s up to us to change things – ourselves, our situations – so that we can be. You know, self-actualization.
It’s this theme, along with fine acting by Denzel Washington and Chloe Grace Moretz, that sets “The Equalizer” apart from what it otherwise would be: the typical bloody, out-for-justice movie.
Washington plays a character somewhat older, heavier (if only by the way he carries himself) and more reserved than usual. He’s Robert McCall, who works at a Home Mart (think Home Depot) in Boston and has a mysterious past. He has a quiet dignity; his younger co-workers like and respect him. He tries to help people; he encourages one overweight co-worker to watch his diet and work out so he can become a security guard.
He’s a widower, and you can tell he’s experienced great pain. Part of him has died, but, as one character points out, the best of him remains.
Meanwhile, he befriends a young Russian prostitute (Moretz) at a local diner. At a certain point, he must decide whether to become her protector, and when he does, he finds himself taking on the Russian mob.
And in doing so, he becomes what he’s meant to be: a modern knight in shining armor. Except this knight has, to borrow a phrase from another film, “a very particular set of skills.”
These skills include (but are not limited to) the ability to make deadly, and gruesome, use of home-improvement tools, and that, frankly, is what makes the film unintentionally funny toward the end. I kept wanting to yell out: “Clean-up in Aisle 3!”
Still, there’s something cathartic about watching an honorable man protect innocents by fearlessly turning the tables on sadistic pimps, cops given to extortion, mob kingpins and the like. And there’s this: McCall always gives his opponents a chance to change, to stop what they’re doing. When they don’t, he sometimes seems to feel genuinely sorry for what comes next.
“The Equalizer” was directed by Antoine Fuqua, who also directed Washington to his best-actor Oscar for “Training Day.” Once again, Fuqua brings out the best in his star in a film that, like “Training Day,” has a strong premise and builds suspense but eventually goes a bit too over the top. Moretz also does well, breathing life into a somewhat stereotypical role (young hooker in distress) by seeming convincingly lost and desperate.