The Equalizer reunites Denzel Washington and his Training Day director Antoine Fuqua for another 1980s television reboot, and a fairly entertaining one at that. If you remember the series with fondness, as I do, you’ll recall it was about retired agent Robert McCall and how he offered help, free of charge, to desperate folks who were usually trapped in life-or-death situations. McCall had, at his disposal, a wealth of experience, contacts, weaponry, and in the hands of that superb actor Edward Woodward, a formidable, occasionally stentorian approach to dealing with miscreants, murderers, and mayhem-makers: “LEAVE HER ALONE—OR I—WILL–KILL–YOU!”
In the capable hands of Washington and Fuqua, with screenplay by Richard Wenk, the approach is basically the same, albeit with a difference in temperament. Retired government operative Bob McCall (Washington) lives a quiet life in Boston working for a Home Depot-like store, helping his overweight friend slim down so he can test for a security job, while engaging in late-night chats at a local diner with a young woman (Chloe Moretz) who is caught up in the sex trade run by a particularly vicious Russian mob. After she is badly beaten, McCall springs into action, taking on the Russian mob, crooked cops, and other mid-range lowlifes. Unlike Woodward’s McCall, Washington’s McCall is a little more reserved, but just as ingenious, lethal and intense as his predecessor.
The same goes for the movie; The Equalizer begins slowly, establishing McCall as a laconic, perceptive, compassionate individual who plays it somewhat close to the vest but whom others can rely on. Once his friends are hurt however, nothing can stop McCall—not even the vile Russian enforcer Teddy (Morton Csokas) who has been summoned to take care of him. The action builds slowly, but the sequences of McCall sizing up and outwitting (and out-killing) the opposition are nicely executed, if lacking in suspense. We know McCall will prevail; the fun is watching how. There’s no real attempt at ambiguity: one early scene where Teddy’s methods horrify even his crooked cop comrade (an excellent David Harbour) is an intriguing element that is quickly dispensed with. In addition, the final confrontation between McCall and the heavily armed mobsters at his “Home Mart’ store is too prolonged for its own good. Overall, though it won’t win Washington and Fuqua any Oscars, The Equalizer remains a reasonably absorbing film that leaves the door open for the inevitable sequel.
A Walk Among the Tombstones, based on Lawrence Block’s novel and starring a superb Liam Neeson (his best role in years) as haunted private detective Matthew Scudder, also looks like it’s positioning itself to be the first of a series. I would welcome it, since the film is an atmospheric, intense, thoroughly engrossing procedural in which Neeson’s Scudder finds himself trying to help some men of dubious means whose loved ones have been kidnapped and/or killed (as in abused and subsequently dismembered). Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey) plays his main client, while David Harbour (from The Equalizer, soon to be the go-to bad guy), is depravity incarnate as one of the kidnappers.
If you’re a fan of the Block/Scudder series, you’ll find that certain changes have been made (Scudder’s erstwhile girlfriend Elaine is nowhere to be found, for example), but they all help to maintain the focus not only on the brooding, alcoholic Scudder, but on his homeless teenage friend T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley) who supplies vital technical and investigative help to a somewhat wary Scudder. Scudder’s investigation leads him to some dark, disturbing places that Scott Frank’s screenplay and direction do not flinch from; moreover the climactic sequence, wherein final reckonings are made, is taut, suspenseful filmmaking at its best. This is a Walk well worth taking.