Is it ever right for a regular citizen with the ‘appropriate’ skills to go vigilante and stand up to wrong-doing and a corrupt justice system? In the TV show of the 60’s, “The Equalizer”, Edward Woodward would!
In many ways the new film version of “The Equalizer” is a story of a superhero, but instead of the cape and the glory of the front page of the Daily Planet, this ‘hero’ melts off anonymously into the Boston suburbs until it is appropriate to act again. It is a more sinister sort of superhero.
Denzel Washington plays Bob (or Robert, when he’s reading), a mild-mannered worker in a Boston Do-It-Yourself megastore but a man with a secretive past. Needing only, it seems, about 2 hours sleep a night, Bob frequents an all-night diner where he befriends prostitute Teri played by Chloe Grace Moretz. She ends up in the hospital thanks to some pimp heavies, and Bob exacts bloody justice on the guys. Unfortunately, these are the henchmen of a huge Russian mafia operation in the US, and Bob’s fight becomes a full-scale war against the leader Pushkin (Vladamir Kulich) and his bad-guy-in-chief, the curiously named Teddy (played with menacing glee by Marton Csokas, Celeborn in “Lord of the Rings” but seen most recently in “Sin City 2”).
This movie is a cut above the normal mafia crime drama story. Washington’s Bob is portrayed as an intelligent, thoughtful but deeply wounded man, and the audience can empathise with his burning desire to give back to society and for people in general to just (as Woody in Toy Story would say) “play nice”. Chloe Grace Moretz is (again) outstanding as the equally wounded Teri trying desperately to find a way out of the deep pit she finds her life to be in. Moretz looks set to continue her trajectory to become a Hollywood Great.
And Csokas as the steely and cold Mafia killing machine makes for an extremely menacing villain.
Also excellent in extended cameos are Melissa Leo (“Are you still and effective team?” from “Oblivion”) and Bill Pullman (“Independance Day”, “Sleepless in Seattle”).
Production values are high, with some glorious cinematography (Mauro Fiore -“Avatar”, “Training Day”) of the ever-photogenic Boston and the mood lighting (Chris Culliton) of the night scenes and the diner is top rate.
After a necessarily slow start to build character and back story, the screenplay (by Richard Wenk) fair zips along, and this longish running time of 130 minutes speeds by relatively unnoticed by the bladder! In particular, the final climatic showdown between the main characters is suitably dramatic, and set in a novel location for such a scene – full of potential for “Home Alone” style activity. (In fact, as my son pointed out, there is another – presumably unintended – nod at the end of the film to the “Wet Bandits” closure to “Home Alone” also).
However, what lets the film down for me is the gratuitous violence graphically shoved in the viewer’s face (and in one case twice via flashback). The director (Antoine Fuqua, “Training Day”) should learn that ‘less is more’ in such scenes, and the imagination is a much more powerful tool: Hitchcock achieved as much by what he didn’t show as what he did. The film actually works best in its middle reel, where some of the acts of vengeance are not shown at all: Washington calmly wiping down a lump hammer and putting it back on the store shelves.
I am also truly staggered that this film was released with a UK ‘15’ certificate. The British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) seem to have become desensitised to this as an issue. Perhaps they are just reflecting that society itself, with Youtube depictions of gruesome murders and beheadings, has become desensitised to such scenes. (Whilst I appreciate not everyone would share this view) I have no problem with sex on the screen, or swearing (which most kids will hear, and worse, every day in the playground) but this level of uncut violence in my view should automatically be given an ‘18’ certificate. If a director wants a lower certificate, then let them trim the shots. The certificate should be a guidance as to what society things is acceptable for different age groups to see, and for me the BBFC keep getting this wrong with respect to the violence part of their remit, with inconsistent ratings: they give the cartoonish violence of Sin City 2 an ‘18’ but the Joker’s ‘pencil scene’ in “The Dark Knight” a ‘12’ – – really? With graphic scenes involving a corkscrew and a power drill in this film, and in an increasingly violent world I would personally not want my 15 year old kid seeing this stuff. Perhaps (assuming the BBFC use social listening software and read this) they would care to comment at bob-the-movie-man.com?
Vigilante films have always tended to stir up controversy, no more so than when Michael Winner’s “Death Wish” came out in 1974 which created quite a storm particularly in the US. Again it is perhaps a sign of our desensitisation that there hasn’t been more controversy over this film.
In summary, this is a good and entertaining film that I would have given four Fads to with a recommendation to see, but I’m knocking half a Fad off for the violence and if gory violence is not your bag, then this is one you should best avoid.
FFFad Rating: FFFf.