Denzel Washington is great, isn't he? Throughout his thirty-odd years in the industry he's portrayed good guys, bad guys, flawed guys and even real guys, with his portrayal of Malcolm X encapsulating all of those things. With The Equalizer, Washington plays the nicest guy you could hope to meet, you just wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of him or he'll kill you. And boy, does he know a lot of ways to do that.
Crucially, though, there's more to Washington's Robert McCall. He's a quiet man, who likes to look after his body, read and help people out. It's these minor details that make his character all the more interesting to watch. It also makes it all the more shocking when he's sticking corkscrews, drills and anything sharp he can find in people. He likes people, with him using his day job to kid around with the staff and help a chubby colleague lose some weight to get the new job he wants. The nicest aspect to McCall is his determination to read the “100 books you need to read before you die” as a tribute to his late wife, who was working through the list herself before she passed. It's a sweet character moment we don't often get with most action flicks preoccupied with jamming as many action set-pieces as they can. Non-stop action can often be monotonous and that's something Fuqua seems to understand this.
We spend a lot of time getting to know McCall before anythin actually starts to happen, which is a really nice touch. In fact, the entire first third plays out like a short film – and a very impressive one at that. It's almost perfect. It has the rise and fall, story telling and the character development is fantastic. The first action scene doesn't happen for a while, but when it does come it has more of an impact as we've gotten to know McCall.
The action is very distinctive too, with guns replaced for a more up close, brutal beat down technique opted for by Fuqua. McCall goes through sledgehammer's, nail guns, broken glass and a lot, lot more. It's so refreshing to see an action film that doesn't hold back. The blood splatters, the necks crack and people die... A LOT.
If The Equalizer has any problems at all, it's that McCall is almost too unstoppable. He's never in danger and he's always in control of the situation and as an audience it makes it hard to feel much tension when you know that he's got everything covered.
There's also some very strange scripting problems where the plot wanders somewhere else that doesn't really have much to do with the narrative. There's a scene where a crook comes into the hardware store where McCall works and steals money from the register only to be stopped by McCall later on which is very strange. It breaks up the flow of the film and does nothing for the story or his character. Another scene is where McCall visits old friends to get 'information' that he already knew.
Other than that, though, The Equalizer surprised me. It packs a punch with some of the most impressive action sequences I've seen for a while, but it also has character and heart. I think this could have franchise potential and I really wouldn't say no to an Equalizer 2.