Thursday, 19 March 2020

Movie review: The Equalizer, dir Antoine Fuqua (2014)

Another stylish film from a master of the action genre! Based on an 80s TV series, this film has a simple premise but I won’t go into too much detail as to do so would give the game away for people who haven’t seen it and want to.

Fuqua returns to the combination that brought us the brilliant ‘Training Day’ (2001; review here). In ‘The Equalizer’ Denzel Washington plays a former intelligence operative who fights to return justice to the lives of people who have been wronged. This includes a young woman named Tevi (Alex Veadov) who works as a hooker. By doing so, however, McCall attracts attention from the Russian mafia (which features so strongly in ‘Training Day’).

From the opening scenes in ‘The Equalizer’ you can feel the director’s capacity to hold the viewer’s attention. The first shot in the movie is an aerial view of Boston, with a suspension bridge in the middle of the frame. This cuts to a daytime shot – same time, different angle – showing what’s visible from the window of McCall’s apartment. The camera then goes backward in a slow panning shot that takes in an alarm clock sounding and displaying the time (7.30), bookshelves filled with books, and the bathroom where McCall is shaving his head in preparation for the day ahead. While this panning shot takes place you get the theme music: a wistful melody made by violins alternating with the sound of an electric synthesiser that, in counterpoint, makes an insistent rhythm. This combination of elements is masterful and displays Fuqua’s power and poise.

These qualities are reflected in the character of McCall, who has a nightly ritual. At around 1am he folds a teabag in a tissue, takes a book, and walks to a diner near his apartment, where he sits, reading and drinking tea, for which the man behind the counter supplies hot water. Every part of his ritual is the same each time: from the package he puts in his shirt pocket to the way he sorts the cutlery – knife and fork to one side (because he’s not going to use them), and spoon to the other (because he’ll need that to stir the tea) – is precise, and is precisely identical each night McCall goes outside his apartment. Books are a perfect accessory for such a practice, and can even be used as a weapon.

Symbolism is everything in this movie and even though it is strictly an action thriller – there’s plenty of tightly choreographed fighting, and the use of various weapons in various places (including inside a hardware store) – it is what people stand for that is important. The filmmakers reserve their fiercest barbs for those who abuse power given to them by the people they are meant to serve.

McCall’s nemesis is Nikolia Itchenko, a sombre thug with a similar predilection for order and calm. He brings a gravitas to the role that is stunning, so full points to the writers as well as the director on this account. I came back to this movie having stopped it the first time about 15 minutes in because I thought it hackneyed, but having sampled the same director’s work elsewhere, I was convinced the second time around that I would enjoy it. And I did.

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