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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 24, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Action flick ‘The Equalizer’ boasts both thrills and gore

"The Equalizer"

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

“The Equalizer” is an action flick based on the 1980s television show of the same name. The movie starts slowly with a lot of exposition, taking viewers from Robert McCall’s (Denzel Washington) sparsely furnished apartment and quiet life of solitude to the decadent headquarters of a Russian prostitution ring, home to several armed and tattooed men.

The audience gets to know McCall as a helpful and well-loved guy, who works at a hardware store. McCall helps co-worker Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis) lose weight, training him to get the security job at the store. He is even helpful at the local diner, where he gives a young prostitute he barely knew, Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), money to buy equipment to record her own CDs to try to make it as a singer.

However, his need to help out takes a nasty turn when he sees Teri beaten and in the hospital. When her friend and colleague Mandy (Haley Bennett) explains how hopeless Teri’s situation is, McCall decides to try and get Teri out of the Russians’ control. He then goes to their headquarters unarmed to try to buy her out of the ring, and when that doesn’t work, commences to kill every Russian gangster in the room in a disgustingly efficient manner.

Murder weapons include a shot glass, a cork screw and a knife. It isn’t just the use of slow motion or fake blood that makes less-than-keen audience members wince during this scene, but the gratuitous use of sound that makes the murders feel so graphic. By isolating the sounds of the shot glass being shoved into one individual’s eye and the corkscrew being pushed through the bottom of another’s chin, the sound designers draw specific attention to the savagery of the murders. Accentuating the specific sounds also make the assaults more realistic, garnering a visceral reaction from the audience.

Pacing suffers on occasion, however, notably between locales. In one instance, McCall is fighting and hiding from antagonist Teddy (Marton Csokas) and his goons with fast-changing cuts to create suspense. The next second, audience members are confused when McCall is suddenly in a scene of luxury, complete with pillars, gardens and German mountain dogs. It is soon clear that McCall is there to visit longtime friend Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) to seek help. Normally, it would not seem odd that the hero needs to seek advice in the middle of his or her story. However, this friend and ex-colleague was never mentioned before appearing on screen, making viewers feel like they have missed some crucial introductions.

This is also the first time his backstory is revealed to the audience, and while the need for some background on McCall is clear, the need to have it happen in this sanctuary setting is not. Not just that, but his backstory is revealed by a character the audience barely knows, let alone trusts, making it so that this new information has very little impact. It would have been much more effective to reveal his backstory through flashback.

Nevertheless, there is some imaginative cinematography and balanced shots that are visually pleasing, such as the upside-down shot of Teddy leaning back so viewers can see the tattoos across his chest. Csokas plays a cold snake of a man who is sent in to find and take out McCall. With his hair in a style reminiscent of Hitler and his nonchalance when it comes to killing people, Csokas does a good job at making the audience strongly dislike his character.

All in all, the acting in the “The Equalizer” is decent, although it would have no doubt been improved had there been more scenes of Moretz, as she was barely on screen for a full 20 minutes. By the end of the movie, Washington creates a sense of detachment from the audience, as his character is turned from friendly grandpa figure to a cold-blooded killing machine.

Despite extensive exposition and predictable twists, “The Equalizer” boasts hair-raising sound design and suspenseful action sequences. While not on this season’s must-see list, “The Equalizer” will be sure to please any moviegoer with a desire for blood and inventive murder.