By Debra (UK)
The original CBS series ran from 1985 to 1989, and because it was produced in America, there was the ever-present usual dangers attending with reprising a previously winning TV formula to the big screen. Nostalgia is not enough, particularly in the ever more demanding technology-laden age we all now live in.
The original equalizer was ably portrayed by the much revered Edward Woodward, who is still held in high esteem particularly in the UK, so it was needed a very brave actor to take on this mantel.
Denzel Washington is always watchable, and has put in some very memorable performances – Cry Freedom, Philadelphia, The Taking of Pelham 123 all spring to mind. One of the only two predictable things about the film was that Denzel Washington would not disappoint the audience. I will expand on the second later. In fact Denzel Washington manages to surprise by taking the title role and giving only his own interpretation. He manages to switch from Mr. Ordinary to lethal killer effortlessly and seamlessly simultaneously managing to maintain sympathy for the characters in the film that his character has made connections with, most notably one of his character’s co-workers. A nice sympathetic touch is the scene where Robert McCall is asked what he did for a job before, and says he was “a Pip” (cue “Midnight Train to Georgia”) and does a little dance routine.
The plotline kept the audience engaged by giving just enough information to support the action on screen. There were inferences throughout that were left unexplained but without creating too many questions in the mind of the audience and spoiling the enjoyment of the film. This very cleverly leaves the way open for a sequel without leaving the end of the film unfinished or making the audience feel the film did not go far enough.
The resulting film is slick and alternates between action and information scenes. There are no confusing “flash back” sequences and the audience is drip-fed information in digestible sized pieces. It is well-written and beautifully filmed. The original TV series was gritty and for the time shocked the audience with the realism of the action sequences. In this respect, the film does mirror its predecessor, as the action scenes are very realistically done. Howard Berger (and presumably his team) should have been recognised for their work on this film (and possibly were in America) where there seem to have been some mixed reviews.
If there is a criticism to be levelled, it is that the Equalizer character is the film and because of the way the film unfolds, all other roles are as a support to the Equalizer. This is not to say that all other roles are merely supporting, but that the role of the Equalizer (rather than Denzel Washington) is the whole point of the film. Perhaps this is why when the film was released it received a mixed reception.
I mentioned two predictable things earlier; the second is the very predictable use of East European villains, and resulting collection of Russian baddies, similar to the stereo-typical Western “baddies” wearing black Stetsons. If the film fails at any point, this is it and I for one would have preferred to see a little more imagination put into what menace the Equalizer would have to defeat.
The film does manage to get from start to finish without being too troubled by the predictable villains, possibly because the Equalizer character is so integral to the success of the resulting story played out on the screen. This is one film where quite possibly the projected sequel could (if the warning is heeded) surpass the first attempt, but this is still a valiant first effort.