Denzel Washington fall movies

The Equalizer Review: Yikes

Friday, September 26, 2014 Rob Samuelson

The Equalizer

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer: Richard Wenk
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz, Marton Csokas

One time, my dad tried to broil a couple steaks without cleaning the broiler first. Things went okay for a couple minutes, then smoke started flowing from the oven. Things got bright. A spark ignited and everything went up in flames. My dad, thinking quickly, grabbed the enflamed pan and ran out the front door with it, dropping it on the sidewalk where we watched it continue to burn even after shooting it with the garden hose. It was a grease fire, and those things don't end until they are good and ready, no matter how badly you scald your hand or how much you plead.

This is the experience of watching The Equalizer, a never ending, astronomically bad movie.

First, the good stuff. Denzel Washington does what he can to show the two sides of this man of violence and compassion. Chloe Grace Moretz, as a teenager forced into prostitution, gives one heart wrenching look early in the movie as she walks out the door to an ill-fated night of work that is top notch acting from a young actor who is likely to win a lot of awards in her career. Director Antoine Fuqua shoots everything with a professional sheen and stages coherent action scenes that you can actually follow, unlike most modern action films.

The rest of it is willfully insulting to the audience. The first 30 minutes play out like Taxi Driver in microcosm, except with all the complexity removed. Washington is a well trained Travis Bickle with a conscience, where his acts of violence are made directly for the common good instead of serving semi-good ends in a lucky fluke of sociopathic rage. Moretz is Iris, but here she's an aspiring musician with no displayed talent – the movie makes it a point multiple times but never plays a note of her songs – and a laughable knack for telling the audience exactly why Washington's character is a good man, over and over. And several actors playing Russian mobsters take on the Sport role. This would be a fine, if overly familiar, premise if this morality play were to form the movie's plot.

But Washington punishes these people swiftly, the movie forgets all about Moretz after her part in the inciting incident, Bill Pullman shows up looking disturbingly like Mitt Romney's twin in a pointless role, and more Russian mafia higher ups try to kill Washington. For two and a half hours.

This is the type of movie that tells the audience at every turn exactly what to think. I don't mean that figuratively. Characters explain in the most literal terms who is good and who is bad many, many times. Every time there's a chance for the movie to show instead of tell, it chooses to talk down to the viewer. There is no trust that the people watching the movie will understand, for instance, the hero might have strong feelings about seeing an innocent person beaten to a pulp. It flashes back to scenes from minutes earlier to remind people of what they already witnessed. If you've ever seen Rocky IV, the king of "'memba dis?" seconds-later montages, you will have a good idea of what happens several times in The Equalizer. Moretz and Washington's hardware store coworkers are used as mouthpieces for the script to explain how sad the lonely insomniac with sad eyes is, or how kind the man who donates his time to help his coworkers achieve their goals is. Even when the movie tries to work in a non-verbal way, it bashes the viewer over the head as Washington strikes a Jesus Christ pose. In a visual medium where even the most subtle gestures are perceivable to an audience, nobody needs to these stupid overtures. But the movie misunderstands its medium to the utmost degree.

It also ends approximately 40 times. Every time you think you can leave, it tricks you into staying another several minutes. Oof. What a slog.

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