Denzel Washington will Re-arrange Evil!
DIRECTED BY ANTOINE FUQUA/2014
Deep, textured brown. Muted mustard yellow. Swaths of rich maroons, and lots of shadow.
This is the pervasive color palate of the latest Denzel Washington action film, The Equalizer. Most films are crafted with an intentional color palate in terms of set dressing and locations, meant to evoke a certain mood, an intentional atmosphere. In the cases of most big budget films, maintaining such a palate entails much shopping, searching, painting, building, and reupholstering. It also ideally involves intense coordination between departments: Set decoration, wardrobe, props, construction and camera.
All too often, such coordination is wishful thinking, a well-intentioned standard of quality that some are more serious about than others. But occasionally, these elements all click to the result of sumptuous cinema, an aesthetic that perhaps transcends its storyline. In rare cases it transcends that other level of easy yet justified dismissal: Pretty, but hollow – a lot of wasted effort by skilled and talented craftspeople who do their part, but cannot steer the ship. That is the director’s job.
The Equalizer is directed by Antoine Fuqua, someone who despite steering Denzel Washington to an Academy Award for Best Actor for 2001’s Training Day is still thought of as a shallow visual stylist, an action-film button-pusher hailing from the 1990’s Jerry Bruckheimer mold. The Equalizer, the most intentionally crafted, pleasingly cinematic action thriller in recent memory, makes the case to re-think that. Like it’s lead character, there’s a bold intentionality in everything about it.
Based upon the old TV series of the same name (although having never watched that, I didn’t know that until the closing credits confirmed it), The Equalizer mercifully doesn’t burden itself with manufactured complication. Washington plays Robert McCall – stoic, respectable, self-assured. Those are the first impressions he makes. The later impressions he makes, depending on what side of justice you’re on, are likely to be far more physical. Yes, McCall sees fit to bust a few heads, to take a few lives… eventually. The Equalizer isn’t concerned with explaining just who McCall is, or why he’s a retired one-man wrecking crew, capable of operating like a ninja with a Jason Voorhees streak. He’s a meticulous arranger of everything on the table, the desk, the countertop – whether it needs to be shifted or not. It makes sense in his mind, and his mind is clearly that of the righteous avenger.
Good thing then that audiences love righteous avengers. The actor, certainly one of our most compelling, is in comfortable territory here. When a teenage girl is wronged (Chloe Grace Moretz, with surprisingly little screen time), the action ignites a mighty flood of justice that threatens to leave the Russian mob with more than a few occupational gaps to fill. Never mind that Moretz’s character is a prostitute McCall only chats with in passing at the diner in the middle of the night (they bond over classic literature). The point seems to be that even the least of these still matter, and still need to be stood up for. She may not deserve it – who can say? But then again, it’s likely McCall doesn’t deserve it, either. He’s a man with a past. And that’s all we need to know.
The Equalizer wallows in it’s atmosphere, inviting us to do the same. It wastes no time, yet is never in a hurry. If an IMAX screening is available, it’s visually worth the few extra bucks. There’s nothing labyrinthine or complex (i.e., overwritten) going on here. Just a very well crafted industrial, urban world built around the straight-ahead vengeance tale that is built so precisely around its star. Washington and Fuqua, steering his ship better than ever, have delivered perhaps the most elegant, most precise TV adventure adaptation since Mission: Impossible or The Fugitive. The Equalizer may only operate within a narrow palate, but don’t mistake that for a narrow filmgoing experience.