Sunday, October 5, 2014

"The Equalizer": Equal parts violence and boredom

The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington is a thriller that 's equal parts stylish violence, over- familiar character types in the form of naive victims and idiosyncratic bad guys. And yes, the villains are Russian mobsters, perhaps the last nationality American directors can cast wholesale as evil doers without an excess of complaints from the political sensitive. It is, in essence, the most recent variation of the avenging angel motif that has been a standard part of Hollywood movies since , director Michael Winner's 1974 Charles Bronson effort Death Wish. On that score, we could go as far back as Shane in 1953, George Steven's masterpiece Western about a retired gun fighter who is forced by circumstances he cannot ignore to put his guns back on and ride off to practice his deadly trade once again. It's the kind of often used formula that almost mixes itself once you open the package: gentleman, quiet man, pushed too hard for too long by bad guys, fights back and reveals lethal skills that swift and sure when used. In the end, lots of carnage, gruesome deaths, screaming bad guys and things blowing up and, to be sure, a firm dead pan on the part of the avenging hero serving his curb side justice. 

The Equalizer, based on a fine television program that featured actor Edward Woodward as a black ops spy who , disgusted with his life of gruesome death and deception, quits his espionage employ and puts his special set of skills in the service of those little people who are beset by awful people and circumstances. Odds against you? Call The Equalizer. This a durable premise for a television series.The movie incarnation features Washington as a schleppy worker at a Home Depot like super store who seems, at first , a nice guy , a good friend, a hard worker, but who reveals, when awful things begin to infiltrate his world by the likes of Russian mob bosses and their tattooed goons, sheds the Everyman guise and reveals what he has been all along, a virtuoso of death-dealing, inflicting fair and unambiguous punishment against those who are irredeemably guilty of something. This is all well and good so far as plot particulars, but we are not really engaged by any of this activity. Washington, who can be a superb actor with the presence and gravitas, is in his lazy mode here, seeming not a little bored with the dialogue and the scenes that he happens to be end.

As with Al Pacino at his most unfocused, his voice takes on a mumbling, nasal quality, and comes near to being sing-songy in rhythm. His deadpan stare, so icy and effective in Tony Scott's taut actioner Man on Fire, here suggest that his eyes are glazing over as he struggles to stay awake. Aside from some sweetly nasty death dealing where the former black ops Equalizer treats an assortment fatal conclusions to a swath of thick- necked creeps , the movie drags its feet and scenes lack any feeling of organic development; it's as mechanical a script from a 70s cop show, say Starsky and Hutch or Ironsides. Director Antoine Fuqua cannot energize the material. The most entertaining stretch of the film are those highlighting Martin Csokas as Teddy, an enforcer for the Russian mob boss; tattooed and scarred, this character is sweet extension of the villain who is well spoken, literate, not without charm or a sense of irony, someone who understands beauty and exhibits fine table manners, but someone can without warning and convincingly become a monster, a determined, obsessed , convulsive instrument of malevolence . The screen crackles and scenes get an edge when he enters the room. Csokas' performance is the one I remember. He didn't phone it in; he brought it in person and was in your face, fatally so.