Reflections on “The Equalizer”
starring Denzel Washington and directed by Antoine Fuqua
Sharing the same basic premise of the TV series of the same name (former member of a secret security organisation helps victims of wrong-doers),
“The Equalizer” has little else in common with its inspiration apart from the name of the central anti-hero, Robert McCall.
Denzel Washington does an excellent job of recreating McCall, former member of a black ops team who seeks a peaceful life but is drawn to help those less able to defend themselves than he is.
An essential difference from the TV original is that McCall is clearly not wealthy – he works as an assistant in a Do-It-Yourself store where he quietly and efficiently does his work while helping colleagues develop character and ambition or even gently pointing out that cursing is unnecessary and creates a poor impression, all done with humour and purity of intent.
Behind this helpful, friendly and caring exterior, a few problems are hinted at, including OCD and insomnia, suggesting underlying issues but nothing serious enough to stop this kind-hearted man functioning perfectly normally.
However, another side to his character is revealed to us after a young girl he chats to regularly during his frequent visits to a café-diner through the night is savagely beaten by some Russian gangster pimps who wish to make an example of the girl after an argument.
McCall tries to reason with the gangsters and even offers a considerable, and very precise, sum of money (the implication being that this is all the money he has) to pay for the girl’s freedom, but this is insultingly rejected by the gangsters who go on to pay with their lives when they fight with McCall, who gives us our first display of his hyper-effective fighting skills.
Inevitably, this leads to repercussions and revenge attacks with further and ever more daring, inventive and exciting demonstrations of McCall’s fighting skills.
Along the way, he finds time to defend a number of other citizens who are abused, usually following the same pattern of trying to reason with the perpetrator before being forced to take direct action.
This is a relatively simple story of direct action in response to threats or violence, and as such it is clear why the film (and the TV series before it) have proved enormously popular – the audience is given someone with whom they can identify to root for.
The situations are extreme, but that just makes their solution all the more satisfying. McCall does not seek to change society, but rather sets out to rid individuals of a problem. He acts on principle and does not back down in the face of ever increasing odds against him.
We have a new anti-hero for the common man, someone who acts with dignity and purpose. He is an ordinary middle-aged man of modest means, albeit with a particular skill-set, but who is willing to use those skills to help others, unfettered by legality or compromise, and as such he offers hope to the general public.
Vaguely reminiscent of his roles in “The Book of Eli” and “Man on Fire”, Denzel Washington does an excellent job of making this lethal and determined man sympathetic, caring and fragile at the same time.
Antoine Fuqua has done an equally good job in combining character development and action, providing us with a tale and a hero much more accessible than the popular antics of superheroes or wealthy playboys.
Of course it’s all too easy for McCall. Of course corrupt cops don’t give up so easily. Of course the gangsters vastly outnumber him and should have won. Of course he can cause the maximum of mayhem using the minimum of tools. Know what? I don’t care!
We have a crowd-pleasing little man with a giant heart and principles who is willing to make a stand for what is right, and that’s fine by me!
A work of art this may not be, but as a tale of direct action against huge odds, it is inspiring.
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