The major issue that almost every attempt to adapt beloved ‘80s TV franchises to the big screen is tone.
Michael Mann’s Miami Vice might have had cigarette boats and more suit jacket-t-shirt combos than you can shake a brick (of coke) at, but, amidst all the neo-noir stylings, it lost it sense of cool. Similarly, The A-Team’s laidback charm just couldn’t survive a big-budget reboot, even with the pitch-perfect casting of Neeson, Cooper, et al. Similarly, in the case of The Equalizer, there’s no doubt that the talent’s in place.
As well reuniting star Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua for the first time since 2001’s Training Day – which won Washington the Oscar for his explosive performance King Kong one-upper Alonso Harris – The Equalizer also features the likes of Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Melissa Leo. Though named for the mid-1980s series, the new and updated Equalizer bears this little resemblance for its predecessor. For one thing, it’s difficult to imagine Edward Woodward killing someone with a corkscrew.
Washington’s Robert McCall is quiet and meticulous; he works a job at a hardware store, his daily routine dictated by the rhythms of a stopwatch. He’s a simple man, content with reading his books, and also a good one, helping his overweight colleague Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis) achieve his dream of becoming a security guard. Washington brings his usual affability to the role, the calm composure, the twinkle in the eye. He’s equally adept at humor as he is at the brutal violence. Then he meets Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz).
Teri is a teenage prostitute “owned” by the Russian mob; Moretz brings out her desperate for a decent human connection. When McCall finds himself drawn into her business, he initially attempts to extricate her diplomatically; soon enough, however, he’s forced to go full Travis Bickle. One gets the impression that this is why McCall doesn’t go around befriending strangers. In any case, soon enough Teddy (Marton Csokas) – an urbane yet volatile sociopath – is on his tail, and McCall, in turn, goes on the warpath.
While McCall is simply too good at this sort of work for you ever to feel like he’s really in danger – he has the hand-to-hand training of Jason Bourne, the DIY skills of MacGyver, and the observational skills of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, and it’s certainly entertaining watching him bring his righteous fury down upon unfortunate ne’er-do-wells. The film evidently owes a debt to Man on Fire, which also featured Washington on vigilante form, but its shallow depth of field robs it of any of Tony Scott’s visual intensity.
The Equalizer delights in giving McCall unusual ways to kill people, even when he’s got ready access to handguns. Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman play a couple of old friends who come in handy on the backstory front while David Harbour, who recently appeared in Walk Among the Tombstones, plays a corrupt cop paying for his sins. Like Neeson in that particular crime thriller, Washington is definitely coasting – this is a long way from his Glory days – but, of the two, The Equalizer just about pulls off the execution.