Retired secret agent Robert McCall (Washington) helps innocents who are in trouble. When a young prostitute (Moretz) is beaten up, McCall kills her pimp and starts a war with a Russian Mafia faction.
The premise of the 1985-’89 TV series The Equalizer was less important than the star casting, and this big-screen reboot cannily substitutes Denzel Washington’s brand of quiet, controlled, middle-aged cool for the late Edward Woodward. Washington’s McCall holds down a job in a home supplies depot in Boston and spends his nights reading great works of literature in a diner copied from an Edward Hopper painting... until he spots an injustice being done in the neighbourhood, and turns into
a deadly, calculating action man.
The plot is nothing special, with a hook that feels like an idealised version of Taxi Driver and a regulation procession of tattooed Russian Mob guys and snarling corrupt cops effortlessly outclassed by the hero. At 132 minutes, it plays like a slow-motion version of the sort of caper Steven Seagal or Chuck Norris used to wind up inside an hour-and-a-half, with added philosophical brooding. Director Antoine Fuqua, calming down after the ludicrous Olympus Has Fallen, plays up the star’s slightly stiff, almost smug presence — even the action scenes are steadily paced and a trifle pompous. When McCall takes the regulation slow walk away from a spectacular explosion he has caused, it draws attention to the fact that this hero ambles everywhere at a golfer’s pace, even in race-against-time heroics.
Chloë Grace Moretz does something with a conventional
tart-with-a-heart part and Marton Csokas seethes as the hero’s ex-Spetsnaz doppelgänger, but this is all Denzel’s show. After Man On Fire, this sort of professional avenger isn’t much of a stretch, but Washington is never less than watchable and his intensity suggests depths that the script isn’t interested in providing. There’s a pleasant low-tech aspect to McCall’s vigilantism, with household and garden tools used to fashion death-traps — though he’s so omnicompetent that there’s seldom any suspense unless innocents are dragged in as hostages, whereupon Washington moderates his stare to suggest he’s especially ticked off.
Though overstretched and a trifle ponderous, this is a solidly acceptable star vehicle with more than enough righteous vengeance for an evening of classy thrills.