The continued and increasing popularity of the ˜geriaction’ subgenre arguably started when Liam Neeson tore up the Parisian women-trafficking underworld to find his daughter. He has a lot to answer for. The latest offering in this limping subgenre is The Equaliser, directed by Antonie Fuqua (who since Training Day, has produced a ˜mixed bag’ to put it politely).
It stars Denzel Washington as Robert McCall in a revamp of the 80s TV show of the same name. A seemingly ordinary man with an ordinary job, McCall spends his days working at a home hardware superstore, and his nights giving into his insomnia by spending them reading classic novels in an all-night diner. It is here he meets Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) with whom he of course has an instant rapport, taking the role of a father figure that they both seem to have missing in their lives. Teri is also, as it happens, an aspiring-pop-star-turned-prostitute, who is constantly abused by her pimp; a pimp who also happens to be a cog in the wider system of the Russian mafia controlled East Coast.
One particularly severe beating that sees Teri end up in hospital stirs something in McCall, and he takes a visit to the gangsters’ restaurant. McCall then butchers these heavily armed, cocky and impudent Russian mobsters with consummate ease, utilising nothing but the everyday objects in the room (corkscrews, tumblers, glass desks, you get the idea). It is now we realise that McCall is nothing but ˜ordinary’.
The slaughter of these Russians doesn’t go down too well with the mafia’s hierarchy and ˜Teddy’ (played ably by Marton Csokas) is dispatched to investigate the killings. McCall is soon pinpointed as the culprit and the rest of the film involves Teddy trying to find, capture and kill McCall. It becomes abundantly clear though that McCall has a wide range of skills that make him almost completely invulnerable, a superspy, a combat warrior, a weapons specialist and generally an all-out superhero. During the second and third acts of the film, it very quickly descends into implausibility and the climatic scene treads a very fine line between over-the-top action visual clichÃ©s and parody. It is basically Home Alone for grown ups (it’s the drill death that seals the comparison).
Fuqua has tried to take the geriaction narrative and apply his veneer of brooding, gritty, inner-city mystique. He has only really partly succeeded and that is being generous. He has taken McCall away from his elitist clique of the 80s show and giving him ghettoised makeover. The lingering Edward Hopper inspired late-night diner aesthetics are testament to the visceral qualities that Fuqua undoubtedly has at his disposal. But the latter parts of the film are too unoriginal, rhetorical and predictable.
Some of the scenes which see McCall passively butcher people and stare dead-eyed at their dying faces are very uncomfortable given that we are supposedly championing him. His co-workers, with whom he has a lively and amenable rapport during the film, watch on as he coldly murders these gangsters. However, there is not even a hint towards their unease at this. Seeing their trusted ˜ordinary’ friend suddenly decapitate someone with a homemade spear doesn’t seem to faze them.
The action sequences are difficult to follow given the dark lighting and quick edits, and there is some painfully wooden acting throughout, apart from Washington and Csokas who really, just looked bored.