From the opening Mark Twain quote to the gratuitous bloodshed of the penultimate scenes, The Equalizer ungracefully crushes together two beloved types of Denzel Washington film. Combining the ruthless assassin trope and that of the everyman whose morality and virtue saves his community, the film somehow manages to defy its preposterous plot and keep the audience wanting more. As Bob McCall, whose past is aggressively and frustratingly unclear, Washington navigates his way through an impossible network of murder and corruption in defense of a young girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), all the while working forty hours a week at a home goods store.
All we ever learn about McCall is that he abandoned his life as (probably) the world’s greatest hit man to sell ceiling fans and read classic novels at his local diner. Moretz, as the aforementioned damsel in distress, a teen prostitute who also frequents the diner, shines impressively through a haze of bizarre, cliched dialogue. McCall’s relationship with her is ostensibly a parental one, but while Moretz and Washington are both brilliant, the film relies on their star quality and fails to develop their bond enough to justify McCall’s subsequent actions. Luckily, his violence is so captivating that the audience forgets to care about the purpose.
By the end of the film, viewers have watched McCall win a baseball game for his coworkers’ team, help a friend with weight loss, and destroy most of Boston’s Russian and Italian mob crews. We still know nothing about him. The Russians and Italians, incidentally, are caricatured to prejudicial levels, a massive negative for the film overall, and a discredit to the genuine efforts of the ensemble.
Everything about The Equalizer suggests a mediocre thriller, but something about Bob McCall’s journey is inexplicably touching.
Perhaps it’s the incredible soundtrack or McCall’s genre-bending double life, but The Equalizer was fully enjoyable even in its predictability. Just don’t think too hard about the references to The Old Man and the Sea.