The Equalizer is exactly the kind of film that my dad would have liked. There’s an emerging genre of films that specifically appeals to his demographic, a harkening back to the action flicks of the 1980s, starring an aging male protagonist whose combination of skill, experience, and raw masculinity make him an unstoppable badass capable of taking down armies of bad guys all by himself. For the epitomous example, simply look to just about anything Liam Neeson has done in the last decade, most notably the Taken franchise. Denzel Washington is filling the protagonist shoes this time around, and the role of the daughter in need of rescue is symbolic rather than actual, but otherwise, you pretty much know what to expect here.
Robert McCall (Washington) is an ex-black ops agent working as a clerk in a home improvement superstore. He’s a generally friendly guy, always helping out where he can. In his nightly ritual of going to a local diner to read, he meets and befriends a young woman who is clearly being used in the sex trade. After her pimps beat her nearly to death, something snaps inside Robert so that he kills the Russian gang responsible for the young woman’s brutalization. However, this gang consisted of some big players in the Russian mob, so the top brass sends their best assassin to track down McCall and put him in his place.
What I found particularly interesting about The Equalizer is that McCall seems to have some obsessive compulsive tendencies, and it seems to be implied that those tendencies are what allow him to have such honed killer instincts and reflexes. This is perfect for Denzel Washington’s subdued and subtle acting, as he communicates most of this non-verbally and without making a show of it. It’s an interesting character detail, even if it isn’t an accurate portrayal of the suffering people actually experience due to OCD. However, as the film progresses, this is pushed into the background and never really expanded upon, so even if you were to find it offensive, it’s not actually so prevalent as to ruin the experience. Personally, though, I thought that it would have given the film a unique identity.
However, the film has some second act pacing issues, where McCall’s helpful nature leads him to enact his own vigilante justice. The film again hints that this is because he can’t turn this newly reawakened compulsion off, but never quite bites that hook. Instead, these scenes largely don’t tie into the main narrative. As the Russian assassin gradually figures out who McCall is and plots to make an example of him, McCall just casually beats guys up to pad out the runtime. This causes the film to feel a bit overlong, and by the time the third act one-man-against-an-army climax rolled around, I was more than ready to be done with it all.
Overall, though, I don’t think The Equalizer is that bad of a film. Yeah, it’s formulaic and its most creative elements seem to have gone to waste, but Washington is the perfect leading man for this sort of role, and long-time action director Antoine Fuqua really knows how to effectively burn a dramatic explosion or gunshot into your memory. If you’re looking for a lazy weekend flick that doesn’t require too many brain cells and a minimal attention span, this might just be the “dad movie” for you.
Have a favorite “dad movie?” Share your favorite in the comments below.