This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 5th October 2014
Denzel walking in slow motion away from an explosion. Denzel moving in slow motion through rain. Denzel rounding a corner in slow motion with a kick-ass gun. There’s all this and more in the latest Denzel action flick The Equalizer, from the director of Training Day (which was an even more kick-ass action flick starring, er, Denzel).
Here Denzel rolls out his Everyman as Robert, a blue-collar chap living a monk-like existence in the ‘burbs of Boston. He works hard at the local hardware store, pausing during the rituals of his obsessive-compulsive, self-contained life to offer encouragement to those around him who are struggling to improve their lot. Robert is a man with a past but we don’t know what it is – but he’s clearly had time to learn all the inspirational lines: “Progress, not perfection,” Robert tells the aspiring security guard – “Don’t doubt yourself, doubt kills”. “You gotta be who you are in this world,” Robert opines to Alina, the young prostitute who is being beaten by her pimp (Kick Ass’s Chloe Grace Moretz, all grown-up in tiny shorts and gigantic shoes). They all hang on his every mysterious word.
Because he’s Denzel, these clichéd interactions are redeemed by the genuine rapport he has with all his supporting characters – he and Moretz in particular have a nice connection which steers clear of creepy or paternal as Robert’s instincts catch up with him and he turns vigilante. More Spider-Man than Liam Neeson, he moves humbly but nonetheless with blunt force, single-handedly taking on a band of Russian criminals (helmed by Kiwi Marton Csokas who more than holds his own against the megastar). Wisely, the first half of the film focuses on preambling the building tension, so that when Robert eventually puts hand to weapon (and boy, does he), it’s impressive indeed.
The pacing is a bit uneven, lurching forward in fits of bloodshed then halting so that Robert can do his dead-eyed stare or pre-plan an outnumbered attack. Similarly, some of the set-pieces almost come off – there’s an impressive climax that evokes The Raid set in a Bunnings, which justifies the R18 rating.
But the Russians are as subtly portrayed – all Faberge eggs, vodka and Icon paintings – as the film’s incessant signposting, laboured further with portentous music and at one point a voiceover to needlessly show us that Robert is grappling with a difficult decision.
We can probably blame all that slo-mo for stretching the running time to over two hours. However, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye, and because he’s the man, Denzel can get away with just about anything. It’s worth blowing something up behind him to watch him walk away.