Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Equalizer: own goal

The Equalizer has Alonzo Harris! and Hit Girl! and together, they fight crime!

Just kidding. Chloe Moretz is in the movie in the role of chick victim, and her wigs get more character development; it was like watching someone using the Mona Lisa to wrap a Happy Meal. And while this film was brought to us by the Director of Training Day, Denzel seemed to be sending out a message to Hollywood “Morgan Freeman will be dead any day now! I too can play not quite geriatric wise old black guys with a minor in ass kicking! Choose me for your grizzled magical negro related performance needs!"

I had been thinking that Denzel chunks out a dumb thriller every year or so to cover the rent; then I took a look at his filmography and, well, how can I put this? I think that the Fresh Prince of Bel Air might have been making more of an effort to stretch himself recently than Denzel has been. It’s all rent-paying, all the time for Denzel. Hard to believe he used to get Oscars.

Even harder to believe that Antoine Fuqua ever came near one. He wasn’t even nominated for Training Day, but there hasn’t been a poster for any of the movies he’s made since that failed to mention that it was yet another effort from the man who directed Training Day. Depressingly, I’ve watched most of them, though not because they were Antoine Fuqua movies. Sometime in the next couple of weeks I’ll probably watch Fury, which is brought to us by the guy who wrote Training Day, and also won’t shut up about it. When I go, it will be in the hope that a war movie full of Sherman tanks can transcend the presence of David Ayer, Brad Pitt AND Shia LeBoeuf; my hope is that it will succeed despite those three names, not because of them.

It was only when I was doing my post-movie trivia hunt that I realised that not only was Robert McCall supposed to have OCD, but that Denzel Washington had put tonnes of research into the disorder so that he could play it properly. I’m not sure how well you’ve pulled something like that off when no-one notices it. That’s getting a bit too method in your underplaying.

Still, it gives Marton Csokas plenty of room to overplay his Russian mobster. Teddy seemed kind of fun at first, but it didn’t take too long before he got to be just as bad company on the screen as he would have been in real life. And there was the wonderful moment when I started to think that his back-story had a problem. Just like every other Russian mobster ever, he’s covered in prison tattoos. But half way through the movie, we get a full bio for the guy which had him moving smoothly from Spetznaz to the secret police to untouchable enforcer for even more untouchable oligarch; where was the jail time that would have created those tattoos? The guy had a whole string of churches across his back, each of which should have represented a jail term; his back-story didn’t match his back-story.

Well, his main purpose in the movie is to give the Equaliser something to equalise that’s big enough to justify using a whole Denzel Washington movie on. Back when it was just an Edward Woodward TV show, the Equalizer handled corner stores getting shaken down and that kind of thing. Denzel needs something more Denzel-scaled; an untouchable criminal conspiracy spanning oceans? That’ll do nicely. Except that Denzel’s relentless underplaying works much better in the little scores he settles along the way; get a co-worker’s ring back, or shake down some crooked cops running a protection racket. Everything felt in balance; the way that Denzel worked and the sense of “Yup, they had that coming.” which also made The Guest a guilty pleasure a few weeks back.

When it’s time to shut down the mob, it all gets a bit trickier to root for. Yeah, the Russian mob looks like they could do with a whole lot of killing. But you know that a movie’s taken a wrong turn when the hero’s killing a whole bunch of complete bastards and all you can think is “Man, that was a bit unnecessary.” McCall gets a set piece early on when he kills half a dozen gangsters with whatever he can find handy; he seems to be enjoying himself a little bit too much, but he’s in a corner and these guys are all swinging for him at once. Then we get to the big finale, when McCall has to take on a bunch of machine gun toting special forces armed only with whatever he can find in a hardware store. And we get; first guy noosed and hanged with barbed wire. Next guy stabbed in the throat with a billhook. Next guy gets the back of his head cored out with a power drill. OK, this is not the Equalizer. This is Jason. This is Freddy. There ought to be some plucky final girl getting ready to schwack Denzel about now. Nope, he’s the hero. He banks a couple more interchangeable mooks, and then shoots Teddy to bits with a nail gun from twenty feet [1] before travelling to Moscow and electrocuting his boss. 

Put the Freddy stuff to one side. This a compulsively neat individual who likes simple solutions that won’t muss his shaved head up. In the hardware store the very first person he kills is carrying enough guns and bullets to massacre the church of scientology. Take the gun, shoot the other bad guys. What is wrong with you? I just googled Equalizer and every picture of Edward Woodward had a gun in his hand. The Equalizer does not have a problem shooting people. Denzel’s Equalizer just seems to have a problem. Good thing this isn’t going to be another TV show.

[1] Nail guns don’t work this way. Mythbusters spent a while demonstrating what a nail gun won’t do. It boils down to a) nail guns won’t hit what you’re aiming at unless the nail gun is touching the thing you’re aiming at b) whatever they do hit, the nail will hit side on.

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