Technical assessment: 3.5 Moral assessment: 2 MTRCB rating: R16 CINEMA rating: V18
On a self-imposed retirement and turning his back on his unexplained past, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is an unobtrusive and affable figure who lives alone and daily takes the bus to work. He leads a quiet life working as a shelf-stocker at a home improvement chain store; his spare apartment, all-natural diet, his mantra “body-mind-spirit”, and his neat appearance indicate his passion for order. An insomniac, he whiles away his nights reading a book while sipping tea at a nearby diner where he meets Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), an underage prostitute shabbily treated by her Russian handlers.
The “equalizer” in the story is a retired CIA agent programmed to kill, and it is in this area that The Equalizer earns points for its lead star’s performance as a well-intentioned, conflicted killing machine, a perfect role for 59-year old Washington. The plot is as old as time itself, drawing inspiration from the welding of Robin Hood and MacGyver attributes, and rather predictable: the exploited and helpless are helped by a character who can’t remain unmoved by injustice. The protagonist is no superhero boasting (CGI-assisted) superhuman feats; and although his efficiency in accomplishing his murderous objectives is quite remarkable, his genius still falls within the bounds of human possibilities.
What can the viewer bring home from watching a slow-burn thriller that’s The Equalizer? The story is not about gangsters although it condemns them, nor about the oppressed although it defends them; it is a character study about a man seeking redemption from his past transgressions but knows of only one path to find it. If the skill to kill were a gift, this “equalizer” would be super-gifted. In any given situation the killer is in his elements, moved more by intuition than by instinct, a made and not a born murderer. The tandem of director Fuqua and actor Washington (Oscar winner in Training Day) works well to make a heroic figure out of a criminal. Here lies the danger: a congenial actor playing a vigilante figure would make it easier for viewers to cheer for violence, after all, the bad guys are consummate masters of atrocity here. As you, the viewer, leave the cinema and The Equalizer sinks deeper into your mind and images of the brutal killings done in the name of justice cling to your memory, you might want to ponder the gray zone humanity has wandered into—“making the wrong choices to get to the right place.”