My first question about The Equalizer after seeing the trailer was, “Why even bother calling it The Equalizer?”
After all, it’s not as if The Equalizer—a 1980s CBS detective drama starring Edward Woodward as a Good Samaritan retired intelligence agent—was a brand that still lured audiences. Antoine Fuqua’s violent action movie with Denzel Washington exists in an entirely different universe, the brutal and vengeful cinematic neighborhood of Charles Bronson, Liam Neeson, and Washington himself. Call it The Equalizer or call it Man on Fire 2—this is a Denzel action film, first and last.
The film doesn’t borrow much from the television show, though Washington does play a haunted retired intel agent by the name of Robert McCall. He works at a Boston-area Home Depot-like store, lives modestly in solitude, rides public transportation, and reads classic novels while hanging out at the local 24-hour diner. But when he befriends a diner companion, a neighborhood hooker (Chloë Grace Moretz) who is roughed up by her Russian-mob bosses, he can’t help but put his skills to use. His Russian equivalent (Marton Csokas) is quickly dispatched to Boston to solve the mob’s problem, and from there on, it’s R-rated clobberin’ time.
Washington and Fuqua, who collaborated on Training Day, which won the actor an Oscar, are aiming a little lower this time. “As the ex-CIA operative Bob, now demoted to cutting wood at a Home Mart, Washington can’t suppress his natural gravitas even though the role is meant for a dweebier actor,” writes EW’s Joe McGovern, in his review.
Read more from EW’s review, as well as a roundup of other notable critics, below.
Joe McGovern (Entertainment Weekly) ▼
“Director Antoine Fuqua and writer Richard Wenk have taken the outline of a 1980s CBS show and turned it into one long and loathsome bore of a movie. The plot has been gerrymandered so that we sympathize with the protagonist’s plight no matter how many goons he gores through the chin with a corkscrew. But make no mistake: It’s as challenging as slaughterhouse footage—and about as watchable.”
Ty Burr (Boston Globe)
“This Equalizer is a brooding, brutal origin tale, one that starts well but steadily caves into genre clichés. It’s a B-movie sheep in A-movie clothing, acceptable meathead mayhem as long as you know what you’re paying for.”
David Edelstein (New York)
“There’s a special kind of hell for artists who array vigilante revenge-porn in saintly garb, and Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua should go to the front of that damnable line after The Equalizer.”
A.O. Scott (New York Times)
“His decency licenses both his extreme brutality and our enjoyment of it. We can persuade ourselves that we are watching the spectacle of enacted justice rather than the sentimentalization of a homicidal sociopath.”
Wesley Morris (Grantland)
“This isn’t a meditation on vengeance or violence or mankind. It’s just men being violent. Fuqua gets off on that. … He’s made an Obama-era blaxploitation picture in one sense—a polished, globalist, reasoned defense of a small, brownish community from posh white invaders. In another sense, it’s still porn.”
Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)
“This is one gory, nasty movie, and it’s safe to say that you should probably seek other entertainment if you never want to see a villain getting killed with a nail gun or a power drill.
Richard Corliss (TIME)
“That superstore climax … also suits Washington, in the dour-deity mode he paraded in his last truly cool film, The Book of Eli. Nobody else can bring such coiled menace, such glowering intelligence, to the simple act of watching.”
Scott Foundas (Variety)
“What keeps the film watchable through it all is Washington, arguably the last of the classical movie stars, who manages to bring almost every role he plays excitingly to life (even one as dreary as this).”
Ann Hornaday (Washington Post) ▼
“Even Washington’s handsomely reassuring screen presence can’t keep The Equalizer from being another preposterous, but somehow also bland, exercise in predictability and fetishistic carnage.”
Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter)
“Ramping up his style to a more dynamic and elegant level than he’s achieved previously, Fuqua socks over the suspense and action but also takes the time for some quiet, even spare moments to emphasize the hero’s calm and apartness.
Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)
“Teri [Moretz’s character] all but disappears from the scene as The Equalizer—echoing Clint Eastwood’s brilliant Unforgiven—increasingly focuses on how irresistible the lure of violence is for those who’ve indulged in it in the past.”
Length: 131 minutes
Starring Denzel Washington, Chloë Grace Moretz, Marton Csokas, Melissa Leo
Directed by Antoine Fuqua