The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Equalizer

So you know that review I wrote last week about middle-aged action stars getting a crack at their own movies? You know, with Sean Penn in The Gunman which I gave a very solid 3 stars. Which we can trace to Liam Neeson piling up an incredible body count in one movie after another. Well, I like Sean Penn and Liam Neeson is one of the coolest people and actors around. But.....then there's Denzel Washington. He takes his shot at the middle-aged action star sub-genre with the very entertaining and fun 2014 flick, The Equalizer.

Living in a small apartment in Boston, Bob McCall (Washington) goes day-to-day with an almost monk-like existence. He wakes up, readies for the day, leaves his spartan apartment, goes to work at a Home Depot-like hardware store, goes home, reads and spends time at a 24-hour diner in the dead of night. He's made friends with Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young prostitute who works for the Russian mob. He sees how she's treated by her brutal pimp/handler and when Bob spots her with a fresh set of bruises, decides something has to be done. He approaches the men and when they laugh at him and his efforts, Bob brutally but efficiently kills five men in the blink of an eye. Bob McCall is a retired black ops specialist who's put that life behind him...until now. With the deaths catching the eye of the mafioso back in Russia, Bob has just set the match to the powder keg. Heading to Boston to fix things is a brutal killing machine, Teddy (Marton Csokas), who has no moral objections to anything at all and is obsessed with finding whoever is responsible. Let the bullets fly...

Man, I liked this movie a lot. Bloody, bullet-riddled (and more death-producing projectiles) fun with Denzel at his coolest, a dastardly, horrifically cruel villain, and a simple, straightforward good vs. bad type of story. I'm a cheap date in general when it comes to movies -- I'll forgive just about anything as long as I'm entertained -- but this one from director Antoine Fuqua is a hell of a lot of fun. I liked it in the same way I did 'Gunman' but this one isn't so downbeat, so glum. Just a fun action movie.

Who better to direct a movie with that formula than Mr. Fuqua? No one I can think. This is a talented director who specializes in guy's guys action movies, including Training Day, Tears of the Sun, King Arthur, Shooter, and Olympus Has Fallen (haven't seen Southpaw yet but it's on my list!). Those are some damn entertaining movies. If the basic description from 'Equalizer' sounds familiar it borrows touches here and there from Death Wish and Taxi Driver, among others. It isn't always the most subtle flick around, but it doesn't need to be. There's good and there's bad and sometimes you've got to do something about the bad before it becomes too powerful. I liked that no-nonsense attitude that Fuqua, Washington and Co. take. It's hard not to root for Washington's Bob, and it's easy to root against the Russian mob. Who doesn't like seeing scumbag mobsters get knocked off in gruesome fashion? I, for one, like it very much.

This was the first time since 2001's Training Day that Washington and Fuqua worked together. It was a pairing that won Washington a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar. Here? Nothing award-winning, but clearly two guys who know how to bring a badass character to life. We don't learn a ton about Bob's past, only tidbits here and there referring to his bloody black ops past. We do learn how horrifically skilled he is at what he does. Putting that life past him, Bob reads, works and helps those around him, sometimes in horrifically bloody ways. He helps friends and co-workers with a pat on the shoulder, a smile, an encouraging word, but when the chips are down, watch out. Don't get in his way and definitely don't hurt anyone even remotely close to him because you'll be next on his list. Part vigilante, part guardian angel, Washington does a great job with the part.

If this sounds like an insult or a dig on my part, it most assuredly is NOT. Fuqua knows the action genre and knows all the little touches to bring his hero to life. Cliched? Yep. Stereotypical? Surely. Supremely cool? You'd better freaking believe it. There are some cool little style moments, Washington scanning a room and planning his attack out in a quick second. We see a hardness come into his eyes when the killing moment comes along. And yes, we get the cool Action Star moments, walking away from a huge fire/explosion. Walking through a mansion littered with dead bodies, nameless henchmen he dispatched off-camera with ease. It could be cheesy or too cliched, but Fuqua and Washington commit and take it seriously. It's never overdone or tries too hard. 'Equalizer' finds that right balance right down the middle.

Csokas may not be a huge star or recognizable name but you've no doubt seen him before. He's a gem, biting into his villain's role like his life depended on it. Cold, brutal, efficient and without emotion, his Teddy has a bottom line that he needs to get accomplished and doesn't care how he gets it done or who he has to kill. If that don't make a good villain, I don't know what does! Moretz is solid with a strong chemistry with Washington as does Johnny Skourtis as Ralphie, a co-worker Bob is trying to help lose weight so he can become a security guard. In the familiar faces department, look for David Harbour, Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo in key supporting parts as well.

This isn't a flick that tries to rewrite the genre. In fact, its general familiarity within the genre and some character and story conventions works in its favor. Sure, it isn't perfect and goes for some easy, pull the heart-string moments at times, but Denzel Washington is one badass action hero and the story and action is fun from beginning to end. Highly recommended.

The Equalizer (2014): ***/****

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