Equalizer’s gotta equalize
Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall is more or less a murderous psychopath who watches in extreme slow motion as the life drains from the eyes of those he is dispatching. He’s also a friendly neighborhood vigilante (nay Equalizer) who will come to your aid if you’re experiencing injustice of any kind. He’s also, like most super heroes, invulnerable due to his heightened abilities, but woe to anyone he’s made a human connection with, because they will be used as leverage against this god-man walking the aisles of your local Home Depot.
I love a good dad-action movie. And while I somewhat lament the state of cinema today that almost forces great actors like Washington and Neeson (and Cruise, for that matter) to crank out action title after action title in order to keep headlining feature films… it could be a lot worse than a thriving sub-genre of weathered heroes doling out punishment on the wicked. I’m not prepared to say that The Equalizer franchise is even the best of this sub-genre, but I am prepared to say that Denzel is among the very best at this game, and Robert McCall is a fun enough character to hang a franchise on, even if it’s far from one of the best characters Denzel has ever played.
I’d seen The Equalizer in theaters, I believe, but had largely forgotten the ins and outs. And having taken in Equalizer 2 within the past few weeks, I was ripe for a revisit thanks to the 4K UHD release of the first film. Watching them both back to back (but in reverse) does highlight the razor sharp edge these films walk between absolute inanity and abject badassery in which the badassery just ever so slightly comes out on top. Again… these films ask you to believe that McCall is both righteous saint and stone-cold murderer. McCall is portrayed as somewhat of a meta-human: vociferous reader, trained in combat, ready at the drop of a hat to defend any innocent wronged, and willing to spill copious blood in the process. He’s always a step ahead, and likely won’t even sustain an injury while dismantling whatever small army is sent after him. You’re asked to swallow all of this by the earnest and straightforward screenplay from Richard Wenk, and many won’t be able to go down that road. It’s so sincere it’s almost silly. Actually, it is silly. But I’d like to make it clear that all of this comes together for me and becomes a successful formula. I like how seriously Denzel and director Antoine Fuqua seem to take this character.
In this first installment, McCall has convinced the world that he’s dead and hung up his hat as whatever kind of violent special operative he once was. He’s lost his wife and is living out a promise he’d made to her not to take up violence again. But when Very Bad Men assault the underaged prostitute Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) that McCall has befriended on his sleepless nights in a local diner… it’s time to break out his particular set of skills. Based on a tv show in which the McCall character equals the playing field for innocents from town to town, this film sort of acts as an origin story bringing McCall to that place where he realizes he can put his skills at violence to just means and help people out. He realizes this after essentially murdering an entire branch of the Russian mafia in a Home Depot in order to bail out Teri. It’s as cathartically pleasing to watch as it is improbable.
A couple of years removed from this film, all I had remembered was the glorious finale set in a Home Depot, and the diner chats with Chloe Moretz. There’s actually a fair amount more to enjoy in this film, however. The supporting cast is almost ridiculous in its quality, with Marton Csokas as the scenery chewing heavy, Stranger Things’ David Harbour as a corrupt cop, and Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman having very bizarre brief cameos that become far more important in the second film. On top of the surprisingly top notch cast, you’ve got Denzel bringing his A-game, and the heart-on-his-sleeve Fuqua pulling out all the stylish stops.
All of the efforts of this top notch team are in service of an earnest film that maybe doesn’t know how ridiculous it feels to pair saint-like qualities with a man who’ll put a wine corker into your neck slowly as you bleed out in his arms. Regardless of whether Fuqua and company know their character is otherworldly and equal parts treacly and terrifying, I can’t be too sure. But I’m also keenly aware that it doesn’t matter, and in the end they’ve got a supremely satisfying action film on their hands.
While I can’t say the 4K experience of The Equalizer was breathtaking or game-changing, there is a certain amount of glee I experienced as McCall, in supreme slow motion under fire sprinkler spray, puts some kind of bolt gun right through the final villain’s brain-pan in crystal clear Ultra High Definition. It’s almost worth it for that shot alone. There’s a visual flair to this film on occasion, with Boston looking fantastic under cinematographer Mauro Fiore’s lens. The bonus features on the 4K disc are actually in UHD, which is nice, and apparently they’ve never been available until now. They’re just your standard deleted scenes, even if they try to tease a connection to Equalizer 2 (which is definitely a stretch). There’s some kind of “Vengeance Mode” feature on the Blu-ray disc included here, but I came for the UHD so I didn’t mess with that. I can’t imagine this release being worth a double dip for anyone who already owns the Blu-ray, but if the new installment has you hankering to revisit McCall’s first outing… maybe find the nearest Redbox (which is offering 4K UHD discs now) and give this a whirl.
And I’m Out.
The Equalizer is now available on 4K UHD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment