Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) times everything he does. Cleaning the dishes: two minutes. Making the bed: one minute. Killing five armed Russian gangsters: 23 seconds.
Reasonable, his face reads. But he was shooting for 19.
McCall is our hero in “The Equalizer,” a badass action/suspense hybrid based on a popular 80’s television series. Not overly dramatic nor action-packed, the movie is perfectly portioned doses of both.
Robert McCall is a modest, upbeat employee at a Home Depot knock-off, living a Spartan lifestyle: a spotless apartment, all tools in their places, and a made bed that could rival a marine's. A retired covert operative, he chose this life to forget his grim past. And it works: his smile is both energetic and magnetic, and it’s made him friends with everyone.
Even the teenage call girl, Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), becomes a friend, whom he sees every night at a diner while he reads. McCall wants nothing more for her than to escape her profession and fully utilize her incredible potential.
One night, Teri is severely beaten within an inch of her life. A man so focused on helping others takes matters into his own hands. A spark ignites in his eye. Now, he’s a man on fire.
Almost Sherlock Holmes-like in his approach, McCall dissects imminent danger in milliseconds, and his creativity knows no bounds. The Equalizer knows a lot more than his warm, friendly demeanor lets on. He’ll kill you five different ways with every tool in his store. His resourcefulness is guilty of being campy, but Washington executes it so well that we can forgive him.
Credit that to Washington’s range as an actor, which has seen both incredibly dramatic parts (“Glory”) and the most action-packed (“The Book of Eli”). In “The Equalizer,” he successfully juggles both, doing so in top-tier ass-kicking fashion.
He enhances an already solid screenplay by Richard Wenk, where actions speak louder than any line of dialogue. McCall helps his coworker lose weight for a new security gig. He sees the potential in a young prostitute and tries his hardest to help her turn her life around. Character construction works at its best here.
If only we had seen that more with characters besides McCall and the Russian villain, Teddy (Marton Csokas).The movie does lose some of its emotional punch when Teri is rarely seen after her initial beating. Pumping your enemies with a nail gun is fun, but gets repetitive when you forget why you’re doing it in the first place.
McCall is a warm-hearted but calculated man, giving his targets a chance and and leading by example. He's the ideal leader for an undeniably solid movie. Watch it, and you'll probably start timing yourself too.
We may have another franchise on our hands.
This article originally appeared in Neon Tommy on September 27, 2014.