Not Denzel Washington or director Antoine Fuqua's best work, but put the two of them together again (as in Training Day, for which Denzel won his second Oscar), and you're guaranteed a hard-core, violence-filled cool fest. At it's best, The Equalizer stands above Denzel's recent efforts 2 Guns and Safe House, but is a bit below Fuqua's Olympus Has Fallen.
There are only a select few film makers working today that I can say I will go see their work without knowing a single thing about it, given only that their name was attached to it. Directors like Christopher Nolan, Michael Mann, and The Equalizer's Antoine Fuqua are but a few that are consistent in there devotion to making quality, entertaining films. Even at their worst, these guys' films have a distinct flavor that stands above and beyond the bitter autopilot of many of Hollywood's hire-on-the-fly journeyman directors (I'm talking about you, Len Wiseman).
In all my boldness, I will so far as to make claim that Denzel Washington is the closest thing we have (possibly in a tie with Liam Neeson) to a modern-day John Wayne. I make that statement not in a western sense, obviously, but in the sense that Denzel is cast in Denzel Washington roles. You go to see Denzel Washington play Denzel in a Denzel Washington movie. He plays a character who has distinct qualities, sure, but in the end we know what to expect from the man - and I say all that as the highest of compliments.
The Equalizer is set up similar to one of my favorite Denzel films Man on Fire, in that the character's back story is a bit of a mystery until "shit gets real". We all know deep down that the man is a badass, but we just sit back and wait to experience just what exactly IS so badass about him. In this film he's a bit obsessive compulsive, a trait that doesn't really develop over the course of the film, but makes for some neat character gimmicks. He meets a girl who turns out to have some trouble with some bad dudes (who turn out to be Russian mobsters, which I am grateful for because the Russians have been too uncommon a foe for our American heroes of late). It's in these troubles that we learn of Denzel's character, who earlier that day is seen working a normal job at a Boston Home Depot-like warehouse store.
The film really latches on to Denzel's performance (another great one). His subtle glances, his darkened stares, and his sullen approach in the face of danger really makes you connect with him in the way you would connect with the kind of persona any man who grew up as a child of action films could imagine himself being given he were in the same situation. The thing I really appreciated in this film was the way director Fuqua allowed Denzel to develop in the quieter scenes, which allowed his turn to be that much more shocking and violent.
One thing I had actually hoped was that the film had taken more time to slowly develop his relationship with the girl and allow him more time with his subtle character cues (as Tony Scott allowed him in Man on Fire) before letting all hell break loose. In the end, once the movie makes it's turn, some of the built-up tension is released, and a in a way relieved to my dissatisfaction. But, that is not to say the movie doesn't pay off.
The action scenes are robust, and what we learn about Denzel's character again proves how badass the actor is at playing a guy who is always, consistently, ahead of his enemies. I also enjoyed the creativity when it came to choosing weapons (from the inventory of a hardware superstore, no less) that Denzel used to dispatch his enemies.
In the end, The Equalizer stands quality above a huge chunk of other films to be released this year, which surprises me that it was set for a September release and not in August when audiences were more likely to be out and about. Regardless, I see this film as a good addition to Denzel Washington's list of consistently fine performances, and Antoine Fuqua's growing resume of quality action dramas.
Purchase on home video or wait for premium television: WAIT
Oscar-Worthy: Probably Not
Box-Office Worthiness (Prediction): $25-30 million opening, $65-75 million total domestic.