The Equaliser is more than a match for Eighties classic
The Equaliser: Denzel Washington steps into Edward Woodward’s shoes perfectly in this gripping remake, says Andrew Johnston
In any other week, you might have expected to see Liam Neeson in the lead role in Antoine Fuqua's big-screen remake of 1980s television favourite The Equalizer. But with A Walk Among the Tombstones still on release and Taken 3 and Run All Night due to hit cinemas soon, Ballymena's finest has temporarily delegated tough-guy-with-a-past duties to Denzel Washington.
Unlike Stallone, Schwarzenegger et al, both Neeson and Washington have become more credible as action heroes as they have got older.
Washington – who has somehow turned 59 without anyone really noticing – is never better than when playing a flawed hero, and they don't come much more flawed or heroic than Robert McCall, the ex-Special Forces operative-turned-vigilante.
In Fuqua's (Training Day) reboot, the character – so memorably portrayed by the late Edward Woodward in the original series – is hoping to put his past behind him after the death of his wife. He lives quietly in Boston, catching the bus to his job managing a hardware store and poring over classic novels in his spare time. But McCall's military training comes back into play when Chloe Grace Moretz's underage prostitute turns up, needing rescuing from vicious Russian gangsters. And so, in a film that is equal parts action thriller and superhero origin story, 'The Equalizer' is born.
Despite the occasional quirky flourish like McCall using a stopwatch to time how quickly he can kill people, screenwriter Richard Wenk's plot isn't anything new, which is perhaps unsurprising from the man who gave us The Expendables 2. But this isn't the sort of flick crying out for avant-garde experimentalism. Instead, it dutifully ticks all the boxes fans will want it to, crafting a solid two hours of hard-nosed entertainment in the process.
As well as being an obvious attempt to set Washington up with a Taken-style franchise, The Equalizer is also reminiscent of some of his past vehicles, such as Man on Fire. Indeed, anyone expecting The Equalizer to satisfy their nostalgia for the mannered action of the Woodward version may want to stick with their box sets. But what the two do share in common is moments of brutal violence, a general atmosphere of seriousness and some top-drawer performances.
In addition to Washington – who has rarely been as menacing or magnetic – and the colourful Moretz, Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo make the most of supporting roles as McCall's shadowy former CIA chiefs.
Elsewhere, the less starry names in the cast list hold their own, too. Kiwi actor Marton Csokas is a hoot as the sociopathic main antagonist, Teddy, while David Harbour – also currently chewing scenery as the principal bad guy in A Walk Among the Tombstones – is equally superb as a corrupt Boston cop.
But the real star could be Fuqua himself. In the 13 years since Training Day – in which he steered Washington to an Oscar – the African-American director has honed his action movie skills to perfection. With the likes of Shooter, Brooklyn's Finest and Olympus Has Fallen now on his CV, the 48-year-old is a modern-day master of cinematic mayhem. In his latest release, when not giving us a string of increasingly gruesome and elaborate deaths, Fuqua dabbles in moody lighting, autumnal colours, jarring camera angles and provocative zoom shots, helping give The Equalizer at least a veneer of classiness above its genre roots.
Whether Washington will return to 'Equalize' again remains to be seen, but the competition should keep Neeson on his toes in the meantime.
Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas,
Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, David Meunier,
Johnny Skourtis, Director: Antoine Fuqua