Monday, 27 October 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Equalizer

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Produced by: Todd Black
Jason Blumenthal
Denzel Washington
Alex Siskin
Steve Tisch
Mace Neufeld
Tony Eldridge
Michael Sloan

Screenplay by: Richard Wenk

Based on: The Equalizer by Michael Sloan
and Richard Lindheim

Starring: Denzel Washington
Marton Csokas
Chloe Grace Moretz
David Harbour
Melissa Leo
Bill Pullman

Music by: Harry Gregson-Williams

Cinematography by: Mauro Fiore

Editing by: John Refoua

Studio(s): Village Roadshow Pictures
Escape Artists

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release date(s): September 26, 2014 (United States and United Kingdom)

Running time: 131 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $55 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $171, 475, 000

Ahoy there, I've been rather prolific this month, with no less than eight reviews so far, and presently I'm listening into Daniel Kelly's (he on Danland Movies) 3some 'Til 3 with Chris Judge and Eoghan Neill, which although making me slightly slower with periodic guffawing, couldn't be a better thing to listen to while reviewing. As mentioned in my last review, I've a good few still to get few with October, guaranteed reviews coming in for Ida, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gone Girl and no doubt some others after this one. So, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is The Equalizer, which is a feature film based upon the television series of the same name from the 1980s starring Edward Woodward as a retired intelligence/espionage officer who dishes out his particular brand of vigilante justice, helping innocent people caught in dangerous circumstances. In this adaptation, reuniting past collaborators of Training Day, director Antoine Fuqua and lead actor Denzel Washington, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor for said film, Robert McCall (Washington) is a retired black ops operative living in Boston, Massachusetts and works at a Home Mart hardware store, where he gets on well with many of his co-workers, such as helping one of his colleagues get in shape so he pass the qualification exam to become a security guard. However, his is forced to leave his quiet and stable life behind when he is compelled to act on behalf of his teenage friend Alena (Chloe Grace Moretz), a prostitute who he witnesses getting mistreated by her pimp. After offering to buy off Alena from the pimp, who refuses, he takes him out, along with all of his men. This sets off a chain of events which involves Russian mob kingpin Vladimir Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich) sending his enforcer Teddy (Marton Czokas) to find and eliminate the culprit. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, Denzel Washington is perfectly credible in the lead role of Robert McCall. Though credibility is nothing new as regards to Den-Zel, he pulls out all his traits as a natural film star to show McCall at the start of the film. He's charming, gregarious and smiles a lot, all of which he does rather well, but he also plays the dark side of McCall suitably. His whole cadence changes; the smile is replaced by an almost bulldog-like expression and his manner of speaking slows down to a lot more deliberate pace. While this not an award-winning part in the vein of his Alonso Harris, the character of Robert McCall caters to all of Washington's natural acting abilities. The Equalizer is also a finely shot movie by cinematographer Mauro Fiore. Even on less than superior projects like Runner, Runner, Fiore's cinematography ends up being a highlight, as it does here. While it is an at times very violent film, it is all shot with a real elegance and grace so that the film constantly looks good even while McCall's doing all manner of nasty things to people. In that vein, I have to admire the tone of the film. It's an R-rated (and I mean hard-R) violent vigilante romp a la Death Wish (in which Den-Zel, in his debut film, cameoed as a mugger), utterly without compromise and inviting viewers to question their own moral judgements as we root for and begin to vicariously achieve pleasure through seeing Den-Zel cause such wanton destruction and chaos for the bad guys. As someone who admittedly has a weakness for this sort of thing, I wallowed in it, and even though I recognise the film's limitations, I'd be denying if I said I didn't enjoy it. There are real flourishes of brilliance in the film, such as a sequence in the climax with Zack Hemsey's Vengenace, a moody and appropriate fit for a terrifically choreographed stage of scenes involving Den-Zel's McCall taking out a bunch of bad guys. Also, I liked the use of Moby and New Order's cover of Joy Division's New Dawn Fades in the film, another case of appropriate use of tracks in this film. Finally, Antoine Fuqua is a game director who we've seen can direct a well-paced film with Training Day. Although this isn't as well paced (which I'll get into in due time), Fuqua's direction has much of the same qualities as Fiore's cinematography, in that he directs this with stylistic flair and grandeur, but also, he's responsible for dictating the film's tone, and makes it clear from the get-go that this is where he wants to take the film. I know this is a personal taste thing, but I'd much rather see an uncompromised film of this nature as opposed to something that has been watered down to get a PG-13 rating. While a lot of critics had reservations regarding the film (extreme in the case of my good friend at Danland Movies), I found myself enjoying this incarnation of The Equalizer.

Now, as I said, I enjoyed The Equalizer, but I mentioned about being a liar as regards to that enjoyment. Well, equally (if you'll excuse the expression) I'd be a liar if I didn't acknowledge that the movie does have problems and some limitations. For starters, I praised the tone and direction of the film, being a uncompromised vigilante picture, but in between these scenes of really palpable violence, there's some scenes of self-important philosophising about the world that these characters live in. I think that the very nature of the film leads people to question their complicity with McCall's actions, we don't need to have it spelled out to us with a lot of self-justification about it being a means to an end or whatever the hell moral conclusions they get the audiences to take away from it. These scenes, written by screenwriter Richard Wenk, are way too wordy and self-serious for what is essentially an exploitation/b-movie with a name star and a Hollywood budget going into it. It borders on pomposity to have a movie that is so indulgently violent lecture us on what is inherently wrong about violence, and with these scenes excised you could have brought the running time down to about a hundred minutes, as opposed to the rather more cumbersome one-hundred-thirty plus mark. I think that some of this issue should also be attributed to editor John Refoua, who lets the scenes drag out way too long. The way they were cut, I sometimes felt like I was watching an old episode of BBC Television Shakespeare, and I don't mean that as a compliment. At times I felt myself wanting to tell the characters to stop telling silly metaphorical stories and analogies and just get to the point. Take into account that this film is roughly the same length of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, perhaps the greatest of all of art's exploration of violence, a film which manages to be both deliriously entertaining (don't tell me Malcolm McDowell's detestable Alex isn't still somehow a loveable rogue) and a masterful look at morality, specifically the definition of goodness. Finally, although I liked some of the choices of individual tracks in the film, I wasn't impressed by Harry Gregson-Williams' score. It's a shame really, because despite the fact he a lot of the time ends up churning these base, murder-by-numbers scores, I know him to be a great composer. Just listen to some of his stuff from the Metal Gear Solid games, and it does make you wonder why hasn't quite captured that sense of scope and scale on the big screen (also, Chloe Grace Moretz deserved better than this rather minimal part).

Although it must be said that I do have some reservations about the film, namely that it is way too serious and philosophical for what is essentially an exploitation/B-movie, with about thirty minutes of material self-justifying all the violence that could have been cut out. The score was also rather rudimentary and Chloe Grace Moretz' part is way underwritten, meaning that the talented young actress doesn't have enough to work with in order to ply her craft. That said, my opinion on The Equalizer is more positive than negative, and I'd go so far as to say I enjoyed the film. It's a solid star vehicle, who gets to bring all his acting prowess out, putting on the charm offensive early on, then turning into a determined, unstoppable badass later on. It's a well-shot film by Mauro Fiore, who always bring an elegance to his projects. Tonally, it shows no compromise, going for the hard-R rating, not holding back on the violence or any of the potentially troublesome subject matter. There are flourishes of brilliance, such as the scenes in the final sequence set to Zack Hemsey's Vengeance, and another use of popular music, Moby and New Order's cover of Joy Division's New Dawn Fades is highly appropriate. Finally, Antoine Fuqua is a game director here, driving forward from the get go into dark and bold waters. While it may have none of the resonance or greatness of a film like Training Day, The Equalizer is still a perfectly acceptable, dare I say, enjoyable violent vigilante film, especially if you have a star like Den-Zel and director Fuqua working together in these capacities. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good (for all intents and purposes)

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