When Hollywood turns to TV for new script ideas, it is always a huge risk. One way to minimize the risk is to develop a script around the basic premise of a mildly popular show, hire a visually astute director and cast an A-list celebrity in the starring role.
That’s exactly what Sony Pictures does with “The Equalizer” and it works.
On the big screen, the film is a prequel to its small-screen predecessor. It shows how Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) gets started helping those who find themselves in sticky situations with gangsters, pimps and other outlaws, fight back and get out.
In this installment, a very young Russian prostitute named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) is in one such situation, in trouble with her employers for a customer service violation. She is in this line of work against her will and wants to get out but doesn’t know how until she meets Robert McCall.
McCall is a retired Intelligence Officer at the point in his life where his physical prowess has begun to decline even though his mental abilities are as sharp as ever. Washington uses his maturity and experience as an actor to create a character who can defeat his enemies by using his brain against their brawn.
Washington never ceases to bring to the screen masterful performances and Robert McCall is no exception. What makes Washington’s performance so good is his ability to demonstrate what Robert McCall is experiencing internally. With just one look, head nod or other seemingly insignificant gesture, Washington physicalizes McCall’s emotional states and inner thoughts in a way that is understandable to the audience.
But an action hero is only as awesome as his enemy is formidable. Teddy (Martin Csokas) is a certifiable sociopath. In fact, he’s the worst kind of sociopath. Not only does he have no regard for the outcome of his actions, he’s extremely intelligent.
Csokas himself delivers a visceral performance whereby one look sends chills down your spine. Csokas’ subtlety is so tremendous that as Teddy is killing, his face reads that he’s doing nothing more than selling an insurance policy. Teddy is the most disturbing antagonist since Heath Ledger played the Joker.
Impeccable performances notwithstanding, the direction of Antoine Fuqua is nothing short of genius. His shot choices and camera movements add as much to the feeling the audience gets as any of the acting. Every frame is visually gritty and each shot moves the audience closer to the edge of their seat. In a very real way, the camera makes the audience an unwitting eye witness to the chess game between McCall and Teddy.
In addition to the direction, the soundtrack also adds to the feeling that the audience is not just watching a movie but participating in it. In most movies, the soundtrack is used as background music or to underscore the emotion of the scene. This is also true in “The Equalizer,” but the soundtrack goes a step further — the songs become an unseen character and the lyrics of the songs add dialog that draws the viewer deeper into the on-screen world.
This three-fold combination of performance, direction and soundtrack make “The Equalizer” an unequaled cinematic achievement.