I have a “top movie” list, mostly in my head. All movie-lovers have one. Usually it is a list of movies that are your favorite, if you were on an island with a bluray player, HD TV, unlimited popcorn and a power supply, the movies on your list are the ones you would hope to have with you. Two movies on my usual top-list are John Q and Man on Fire. They are both Denzel Washington movies and, in my opinion, they are both fan-freaking-tastic! Both of these films are very VERY high on my list (definitely in the top ten), however, a new Denzel movie might skew my ranking a little bit now. That movie is the newly released Denzel movie called The Equalizer. When I first saw the preview I thought: “Well…this is clearly a Man on Fire Sequel”. Which, on paper, it sort of is. It follows an ex-military old-timer that befriends a young girl. Eventually, something happens to the young girl and the old man has to “come out of retirement” to take revenge. On paper, The Equalizer IS a Man of Fire 2. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Man of Fire but it seemed cheap to make a carbon copy. However, I was so so wrong! This movie is so much more than that.. honestly I don’t think this film will get the credit it deserves both in the box office and from critics. The director, Antoine Fuqua, along with Denzel and his amazing acting ability did a lot of unexpected things in this film and they were welcomed surprises.
Robert McCall (Denzel) is a normal guy. He works as a manager at a Home Mart (essentially a Home Depot). Not much is known by his coworkers about McCall, two youngsters even try to coax information from him about his old job. McCall reveals nothing and usually blows them off with a joke– even telling that he was a member of Gladys Knight and the Pips. It is revealed at the beginning of the film that he is also helping a fellow coworker lose weight so that he can become a security guard at the Home Mart. All-in-all, McCall is a likeable guy and everyone gets along with him rather well. At home, however, it is revealed that he has some issue. For one, he cannot seem to sleep a wink, two, he is a OCD-esque neat freak. Everything needs to be in proper order. We see this again whenever he goes to a local diner. He always repositions his silverware and napkins in certain ways, orderly ways.
When we first see McCall at the diner, he already has a pseudo friendship with Teri, a young hooker for the Russian mob. They always talk about whatever book McCall seems to be reading (as he is attempting to read the “top 100 books you should read before you die”, impressively he has reached 91 books so far) and have surface conversations like how Terri should give up sugar. Their friendship seems awkward and even a little forced, but it is clear that they both take some comfort in it. They become closer during the beginning of the film until, finally, Terri stops coming to the diner. McCall finds out that she had been brutally beaten by her Russian boss because she hit a client and, said client, was displeased.
Robert goes to the club where the Russians work and attempts to buy her freedom. When they refuse and send him away, he ends up killing the men quickly and efficiently. He later finds out that they were higher-ups in the Russian mob. The head of the Russian mob then sends his “fixer” to find out what happened and to kill any threat to their operations. This fixer, it seems, is equally as brutal and efficient as McCall and McCall sets out on a path of regaining his former self and stopping the entirety of the Russian mob to keep him and Terri safe from harm.
Sorry for the long synopsis, I tried not to give away any spoilers that werent in the previews. I have to say, I absolutely LOVED this film. Everything about it was well executed! It’s also tough for me to describe why exactly I love it without brimming over with excitement so I will do my best…
1. The Depth of Denzel’s Character (Robert McCall)
When I went into this film I thought that Denzel’s character would be a unlikeable asshole that is better than everyone else due to his amazing skills. I was completely wrong! Robert McCall is funny and likable, he makes jokes, gives advice and is even acting as a coworkers personal trainer to get him into shape for a personal goal. When, said person, has a life issue, he steps in to help out. He shows genuine concern for those around him and a strong sense of justice and morality. It was surprising to see him getting along with those around him.
At how, however, we see a different side of him. Someone with OCD-like tendencies, he is very neat and tidy. One of the people chasing him even comments that he “lives like a monk”. What was clear to me is that McCall is trying to control his life as much as possible, he requires order. This goes a long way to describing why McCall becomes and pseudo-avenger in the film. He does not like people going out of the natural order. If a cop breaks the law, he gets angry because that’s not what they should do. I honestly think that order trumps morals for McCall’s character. When he confronts two crooked cops in the movie who are shaking down local businesses for money, he gets angry at them saying “You’re cops! You’re supposed to protect and serve!” –I think he was more angry that they weren’t doing things that we “cop-like” rather than being angry for moral reasons.
McCall also has trouble sleeping, he can’t sleep a wink! As such, he visits a local diner and befriends Terri, a hooker for the Russian mob. At the beginning of the film, McCall and Terri have an established association. McCall gives he advice from time to time and Terri listens to McCall’s stories from the books he reads which all seemed, with no surprise, heavily theme towards the movie (which is a little cheesy but I can overlook that). Their association eventually becomes a friendship until eventually she makes a mistake and hits a “customer”. As the “synopsis” section already states, this is where McCall’s revenge starts. But before that the diner scenes act as a space where Terri and McCall feel comfortable. As such these scenes go a long way to helping understand the two characters. Terri is extremely unhappy but she doesn’t see herself as someone worthy of something better in life. She is an aspiring singer but doesn’t really believe in herself. McCall shows more of how he requires order even in the way her sets up his silverware. When Terri comes over for the first time to sit by him (which apparently had never happened before) he is at first, shocked and then has to mentally adjust. Both characters seem to be on the edge of society and the diner acts as their safe haven, their judge free zone where they can be themselves.
When McCall starts killing, he is spectacularly dark and ruthless. Honestly, Antoine Fuqua did an amazing job setting up these scenes. They are dark and McCall actually has a villain-esque feel in these scenes. I don’t simply mean that he was a skilled killer or super strong, but I felt like when McCall killed or fought, there was a void… like he gave up being human for a few seconds to get the job done. He was, in essence, terrifying and controlled. I don’t have that much content here because, quite honestly, it is something that you have to see and feel to understand. One scene in particular drives this home for me. In the final confrontation, the villains have rounded up all of his coworkers in the Home-Mart as a trap for McCall. He starts going around and killing his pursuers one by one. He killed one guy via a barbed-wire hanging. When he does this, he is face to face with the guy he is hanging and he watched the guy struggle to free himself. He stares at him, no pain or remorse in his eyes as he watches the life leave the killer. It’s dark and he leaves the guy just hanging there is the middle of the aisle. Another pursuer sees his buddy and goes to investigate, McCall was hiding behind some product and stabs him in the neck with a harpoon-style weapon. The whole scene is incredibly dark and ominous and it shows just how dangerous McCall is.
The crazy thing is, even though McCall is a skilled and ruthless killer, he is remorseful and sad about it. Not usually during
a killing but before and after. He is ashamed of the person he is and tries to avoiding being that guy but he cannot escape it. When he tries to buy Terri’s freedom, he doesn’t want to kill the men and hesitates to stay in the room. After they’re all dead he apologizes for doing what he did and laments to the final victim over how he died over something so trivial. Before he sets out to utterly destroy the evil organization he goes to an old friend for “permission” to be the man that he once was. Finally, in the final scene where he kills his main pursuer, his face isn’t a face of anger, joy or victory… McCall is sad. Just like in the Old man and the Sea (the book McCall was first reading in the diner) McCall grew to respect his pursuer just as the fishmen (old man) grew to respect the fish the more it fought. They were both sad to see their adversaries go. Fuqua also set this scene up amazingly well because not only did McCall look sad, the sprinkler system in the building was one and as the camera zooms into McCalls face as he is about to kill the final pursuer, it looks as if he is crying.
I honestly feel like there is so much depth to be found in Robert McCall as a character he is simply amazing!
The Fight Scenes
The fight scenes are amazing. I thought Denzel might not pull it off because he is getting old but he, as always, is a convincing bad-ass. Another thing I liked about the fighting is the same thing I liked about the Taken series. Every single time the main character hit someone, it sounded painful as all hell. You sometimes even winced when you heard someones head slam again a car door or when someone gets hit in the eye with a shot glass or even when Denzel essentially slaps someone’s face onto a coffee table. It SOUNDS painful and you almost feel bad for the villains.
McCall was a brutally efficient killer and had very little trouble dealing with anyone in the film. With the exception of one mercenary towards the end that is about twice the size of McCall. He had to, understandably so, put a little extra effort into this fight and then he lays down afterwards in an oldman-style exhaustion. He also got very VERY creative in killing whilst at the Home-Mart. Using work supplies to kill everyone. From stuff like a drill to the skull and barbed wire-hanging to nail guns and a microwave explosion.
The only thing about the fight scenes that left me wanting more was McCall vs. the Final villain. The whole movie they set up this guy to be similar to McCall in skill and background as well as his ruthlessness. But there was no real face-off. I would have preferred to see them go toe-to-toe but it never happened. That is my one and only sour point for this movie. Other than that, the fight scenes we exhilarating, dark, creative and fun.
All-in-all, this movie is now one of my favorite movies of all time! I recommend it to anyone who is not bringing their kids to the theater!!