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The Equalizer (2014): Underrated or Forgettable?

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

Denzel Washington is one of the most prolific and diverse actors to grace the silver screen playing everything from lawyers in Philadelphia to a corrupt detective in Training Day. Now he reunites with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua to recreate the classic 80s crime drama, The Equalizer. But the question is, has it aged well or should it be forgotten to the times as a cliched and disgraceful recreation of 80s television?

Robert McCall (played by Denzel Washington) is a former black ops assassin and insomniac retail worker at a home improvements store. He soon befriends escort and aspiring singer Alina (played by Chloe Grace-Moretz). But when Alina ends up in the hospital after getting beaten up by her pimp, Robert springs into action. But this justice brings the attention of Russian mafia enforcer Teddy Rensen (played by Marton Csokas) and Teddy is hell bent on finding Robert before any more illegal business is disrupted.

What do you see when you look at me?

There is nothing special about this plot as it feels derivative of the Taken franchise, even having an older actor prove he can still do action movies. Old man befriends an impressionable kid in order to provide a good influence and become a mentor figure, only to have the kid either get kidnapped or nearly beaten to death to drag the old man out of retirement. I probably just described the plot to dozens of movies over the years, but the similarities between Taken and The Equalizer are hard to ignore. The bright side is, there are major differences between the two plots.

One of these major differences has to be the relationship between our protagonist, Robert, and antagonist, Teddy. These men are two sides of the same coin, both highly trained and motivated, The only difference between the two is one gave into his demons while the other harnessed his for the benefit of the good people around him. Near the climax of the film, this relationship is on full display as Teddy and Robert discuss a parley and Robert tells a story about a broken kid killing a good man. While it may hint at Teddy’s backstory, it is used more so as an allegory to show the distinction between the two men, and a captivating one at that.

You can feel the tension!

Of course Denzel Washington commits fully to his performance. While it may not be the most physical of roles for an action thriller, what it makes up for the lack of big sequences is tactical intelligence. Denzel portrays Robert as gentle but capable if push came to shove, along with a few ticks here and there that subtly display his need for control and his adaptability as an assassin. But the home improvement store climax will probably become iconic as the years move by, seeing him use brains and patience to eliminate his adversaries rather than brute force which culminates in a very cold but satisfying one v. one between Robert and Teddy. I almost forgot to mention that Marton Csokas is absolutely terrifying as Teddy Rensen, being what could be considered a force of nature. He portrays Teddy as ruthless but overall mindful of his actions to ensure he maintains the upperhand.

Make this shot iconic!

The Equalizer is a movie of the Hollywood machine, taking an old property and rebooting it for a new generation. While it has spawned an okay sequel with a third on the way (with his Man on Fire co-star Dakota Fanning to join) it is proving successful. While the plot is similar to other action films, Denzel’s and Csokas’s performances elevate the film above the rest of the mediocre action films of the last decade. It also helps that its methodical approach to its action helps build tension and create satisfying payoffs to its sequences to make it more memorable. Even with all the positives and negatives about this film, it begs the question…Is The Equalizer an underrated gem or should it be forgotten with the other films like it? Whichever you think, I will have no problem revisiting this film time and time again.

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