Denzel Washington has taken a long and winding road to becoming an action star. He nearly started out as a perennial Oscar contender in the 1980s, and it wasn’t until 2001’s Training Day — for which, ironically, he won an Oscar — that he decided that playing with guns on a consistent basis might be good for his career.
His latest crowd-pleaser role is in The Equalizer, in which he plays the mysterious Robert McCall. By day, he’s a mild-mannered employee at a Home Depot-like store, but haunted by memories of a vague past, he finds himself unable to sleep, choosing instead to frequent a 24-hour diner every night.
It’s still satisfying to see Washington stick it to the bad guys, but only in the way that a candy bar momentarily sates your hunger.
It’s there that he befriends Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a prostitute who dreams of better things but can’t escape the Russian mob that pimps her out. When she takes one beating too many, Robert decides to use some hidden skills to try to get her out, a decision that sets in motion a violent cat-and-mouse game between him and some seriously pissed-off Russians.
Despite containing a lot of lowbrow elements, there’s a lot to like about The Equalizer. First of all, director Antoine Fuqua, teaming with Washington for the first time since Training Day, gives the story a lot of time to breathe, letting us really get to know the characters before getting down to the business at hand.
Also, keeping Robert’s history vague for most of the film gives a little more oomph to the action scenes. Is he able to do the things he does purely out of a sense of right and wrong, or does he actually have the type of training necessary to take out a roomful of men while barely getting a scratch himself?
Unfortunately, the film can’t maintain its early momentum, and by the time the final act rolls around, it’s devolved into your standard cheesy thriller. It’s still satisfying to see Washington stick it to the bad guys, but only in the way that a candy bar momentarily sates your hunger before you realize it contains almost nothing that’s good for you.
Still, Washington knows how to make this kind of role his own. His Oscar-laden background lends a certain cachet to everything he does, even if the surrounding story doesn’t match up to his talent.
Moretz is fine in what turns out to be a surprisingly limited role, and Marton Csokas is suitably chilling as the Russian mob’s enforcer. But aside from late movie appearances by Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo, almost no one else makes any kind of impression.
Although Washington has the chops to make The Equalizer into a decently entertaining film, it sure would be nice if he didn’t feel the need to keep proving himself as an action hero at an age when others have turned to the type of roles that originally made him a star.