Oct 12 2014

The Equalizer: Equal violence and classic Denzel Washington


Roger lobbied for a couple of weeks to see The Equalizer, Denzel Washington’s new movie about a loner, former bad-ass, genius who makes the choice to break out of his mild-mannered Home Depot-type cover job to seek revenge against the Russian mafia.

If you are looking for anything but spectacular violence and Washington’s Costco-style sexiness–if I could unbotton his shirt, it would be to check for the Kirkland label–this is not your style of entertainment. The extreme violence and the stereotypical plot did not interest me, but the prospect of holding hands with my husband for two hours was appealing, so I agreed to go.

Throughout the film, Washington wears his typical unreadable expression,  broken occasionally by the brilliant smile that makes women’s (of a certain age) hearts melt.  There’s a weak backstory involving a promise to a dead wife, but it’s never fully revealed or analyzed, so the scene with the slo-mo raindrops falling from Washington’s beautiful eyelashes have to represent the hero’s complex emotional response. This lack of depth didn’t phase the largely male audience in the almost sold-out theatre. They reminded me of the attendees of a late-night viewing of Rocky Horror Picture Show, laughing and egging the hero on throughout–like they were participants in a video game with a points earned for the body count.

The violence is creative and thrillingly original, but I kept my eyes closed for most of it.  Roger squeezed my hand many times, indicating his own extreme revulsion (not at holding my hand, I hope).  Since the violent end of criminals is the objective of the film, I can’t criticize the gratuitous nature of it,  but I do wonder at a group of 20-somethings gathered in the parking lot later who were enthusiastically analyzing how the hero could set off a microwave explosive if the power in the warehouse was off.  Their level of excitement at watching people be killed with home improvement tools is pretty alarming.   The humorous moments, centered around Washington giving the evil-doers a last chance to do right before they die, is the better part of the film adobe creative suite.  At one point, as he issues an ultimatum to the chief-bad guy, Washington drops a pair of broken and bloody sunglasses (from the previous victim) in the bad-guy’s glass of wine. Gross but smooth.

Washington’s character, Robert McCall, lives a militarized live with extraordinary precision, timing every aspect of his daily routine, including, to the audience’s pleasure, the number of seconds it takes to kill his adversaries.  The minor characters are a stereotypical collection of the downtrodden and the errant–the prostitute that starts the chain of revenge is so forgettable, I forgot she escaped to freedom until she showed up at the end with the expected “thank you.”  The collection of Russian evil-doers wears designer suits over what can only be described as “beautiful” tattooed bodies–if you go for that kind of thing.   The thinking viewer has got to wonder about the long-term cultural effect of the negative images about Russians, North Korean, Chinese, and more, and how this imagery reinforces our xenophobic American point of view.  You might argue that Robert McCall’s mission to rid the world of the evil, represented only by those who are not like us, is no different than Jason Bourne’s or James Bond’s.  Bad guys have always been the “other.”  As a teacher, though, I’m on the front lines of dealing with intolerance, and the media brainwashed teens of today will be the collective Equalizer fans of the future.

The ending leaves a path of destruction through Boston and an opening wide enough for The Equalizer 2 (already in the works). Meanwhile, I’ll see if I can get Roger to watch episodes of the 80′s television show on which the movie is based–that’s good for 30 minutes of hand-holding.