Washington plays our lead Robert McCall, a widowed retail worker, seeking a peaceful existence following his elusive, shady past. However when he meets the vulnerable, damaged prostitute Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz) in a local cafe, he finds himself intrigued by her circumstances, and sympathetic to her cause. Then when she is savagely beaten by the hyper-violent Russian gangsters who employ her, McCall is incensed, and compelled to help out. So he sets off on a bloody path of vengeance, slipping dangerously into old habits, with the sadistic killer Teddy (Martin Csokas) fervently on his tail.
There’s been something of a resurgence of late in middle-aged men taking it upon themselves to be a hero, such as 3 Days to Kill, starring Kevin Costner, or pretty much anything that has Liam Neeson attached. However in The Equalizer, our protagonist’s age does not feel like a mere gimmick, but a vital plot device. It’s that weathered, nothing to lose attitude which makes for such an intriguing entry point, as somebody you appreciate to have been there, and most certainly done it. Washington carries the film too, as an infallible authoritarian that you invest in completely, with a charm and charisma to boot.
The villains are also well crafted, with an enjoyable hierarchy that sees a new, more menacing antagonist come in every time we think we’ve expended of the most despicable. Fuquar’s picture is brutal in its conviction too, with a handful of scenes that become difficult to watch given the violent nature at hand. However it’s all well and good to display an entertaining game of cat and mouse – but the narrative requires more substance. For the most part it’s nonsensical, and while affectionate in its conventionality, it can become unbearable at times, too. Also, if you are going to remain so archetypal of the genre, stay short and sweet – there is simply no need to surpass the two hour mark with a film of this ilk.
That’s not to say there isn’t room for pure, unashamed entertainment, as Fuquar showed with his preceding endeavour Olympus Has Fallen – sometimes all we want is to indulge in something absurd, and escape into another world. But The Equalizer is a somewhat more sombre affair, humourless for the most part, making the contrived frivolity seem tremendously out of place. As a human drama this picture is incredibly flawed, so it may be best to engage with the piece as a superhero flick, which in a sense, it is. Except Washington doesn’t have supernatural powers, oh no, he has hardware tools.