(Right at the end of the month our friend Rohan Morbey returns, and so much did he NOT like Antoine Fuqua's The Equalizer, starring Denzel Washington, that he's letting us cross-post his review, which appears over at his site Closing Credits - do follow him on the Twitters!)
There’s a scene towards the end of The Equalizer where the stakes should be at their highest. The villain is about to kill an innocent man and, right on cue, in walks our hero, Denzel Washington. Water pours down from the sprinkler system overhead, he has a nail gun raised and poised to pull the trigger. The entire scene takes place in slow motion, the thunderous and obnoxious score blasts out, and I believe the idea from director Antoine Fuqua is for the audience to be thrilled, or even surprised that Washington is here to save the day. I laughed out loud for The Equalizer had gone into full blown parody of an action thriller. It might not
be so sad if it weren’t played with such a straight face.
If The Equalizer has one thing going for it, it’s that it’s the most unintentionally hilarious film of the year and will serve a generation of film makers as a template of how not to create tension, shoot an action scene, or give the audience a single reason to care. Since making Training Day in 2001 Antoine Fuqua seems to be doing his damnedest to erase memories of the quality of his breakout movie and is going out of his way to prove he’s a hack. I might not be so critical of the man if his other efforts weren’t King Arthur and Brooklyn’s Finest, but alas that’s the standard of cinema he has chosen to make.
Fuqua's idea of how to tell a story and what looks ‘cool’ is rooted deeply in the past decade, when everyone was overusing super slow motion and a booming metal/rap/techno score to make the films edgy. At one point Washington even walks away from a clearly digital explosion, where every footstep takes ten seconds to complete. Andy Samberg mocked this trend five years ago, yet Fuqua merely serves up footage that over uses slow motion to mask a lack of creative vision.
Slow motion is one thing, but when the entire film seems like it’s been playing for an eternity you have to blame the director again. The final act is so long and without any tension whatsoever one cannot understand how all involved didn’t see the problems. You cast Denzel Washington because he has a particular charisma, but this film gives him nothing to work with and turns his character into a bloodthirsty psychopath out of a slasher movie rather than a hero we can root for. The villain is similarly brutal and beats people up because there is nothing else written for him to do and this fills the time until the inevitable and stretched out conclusion.
And what of Denzel Washington as the titular character? He isn't mysterious enough to be intrigued by, nor are his actions any different to any other vigilante we’ve seen in movies before. The screenwriter throws in a few lines about ‘being who you’ve got to be’ and ‘getting peace’ from the killings, but nothing here convinces us that this isn’t just another sub-par revenge thriller. Nothing he does is any different to the usual low rent action picture; fast moves, guns, knives, bone crunching are all ticked off but it’s all in service for nothing.
The biggest let down of all is that I actually quite enjoyed the first fifteen minutes and believed the film was going to be far more like Washington’s own Man On Fire or a modern Death Wish than the trash it ended up becoming. The film starts off well as we get a sense of characterization through small scenes and a decent relationship between two people who walk the streets at night, but for very different reasons; Washington’s character obviously has a past he wants to forget and I liked the fact that he is a good man, well educated, doesn’t curse, wants to help people even if the girl he befriends (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a cliché right out of the book of movie clichés; a hooker who wants to get out but can’t. Their relationship is established before the film begins, so when bad things happen to her we believe he is angry and hurt. All this good work unravels with every scene which follows as soon as the vigilante aspect begins; we don’t even see Mortez again until the very end, all ties to the relationship cut in favor of one-note villains, corrupt cops, and uninteresting subplots which only pad out the running time.
I’d hate to see Washington turn into another Liam Neeson, churning out subpar action films every year, but with this, 2 Guns, Safe House, and The Book Of Eli all coming in the last four years, he’s heading down the wrong path and sadly Tony Scott is no longer with us to lend a much needed helping hand.