Studio execs are always trying to give the people what they want to see based on trends and their own marketing ploys. They even adapt popular TV shows into franchise films to make more money. However, at times, what worked well on TV in the 1980s may not work in film in 2014. The road from TV to film adaptation is paved with cinematic good intentions.
According to imdb.com, The Equalizer television series’ plot is that a former CIA operative has left the agency and opened up a private investigation company. As a PI, Robert specializes in “equalizing the odds” of his innocent clients. On further investigation, Merriam-Webster states that an “equalizer” is “something that makes people or things equal.”
That said, The Equalizer (both the 1980s TV series and 2014 film) serves as another vehicle for Denzel Washington’s talents. In screenwriter Richard Wenk’s script (based on the TV scripts written by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim), Washington’s Robert McCall is an ex-CIA agent who tried to do something nice for a girl he hardly knows, Alina (played by a grown up Chloe Grace Moretz). In helping Alina, who is a prostitute, Robert unknowingly takes out the eastern faction of the Russian mob; single-handedly. Now, he has to choose between being a vigilante for justice, and getting killed.
Seeing as there is no story without conflict and pathos, our hero, Robert, takes the former route and embarks on a mission to dismantle the Russian mob — bad-guy-by-bad-guy. At 59 years old (only four years older than Edward Woodard, who played Robert on TV from 1985-89), Washington has the energy and skill to employ what looks like krav maga — street style martial arts — to dispatch bad guys to the other world with little to no help. No matter how talented Washington is this film is still not to be believed.
Granted, it’s obvious that director Antoine Fuqua thought Washington is a good candidate to play an aging action hero. Kudos for allowing some color in the newly formed old-people-doing-action genre. But, midway through The Equalizer it becomes hard to take the film seriously. There are holes in the plot, like Robert’s one-man army and why the film’s super villain, Nickolaj “Teddy” Itchenko (Marton Csokas) misses numerous opportunities to off Robert. When Teddy fails to produce a dead Robert, his boss Vladimir Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich), threatens to fire Teddy, instead of kill him. Not very super villain-y and it doesn’t make Pushkin seem like a man to be feared.
It’s as if Fuqua is relying on Washington to carry the whole film; which he does along with Csokas. Like Flight before it, The Equalizer is good because of Washington. This makes the film worth the watch; once. Twice would just make the plot holes glaringly obvious and induce two parts eye rolling and one part guessing the ingenious new way the next bad guy will die.
Performance wise I’m pleased to see Washington still has some fight. Likewise, Csokas’ Teddy makes a worthy adversary — despite having the same name as a child’s plush toy. I think Lotso (Toy Story 3) is scarier than that. The first time I saw Csokas on screen he was overpowering a fiercely combative Amazon named Xena (Warrior Princess). He was good then and he’s still good now. What I don’t understand is why he hasn’t become a star, yet.
Now, as an adaptation, The Equalizer is great. As a film starring a well-known actor, there were some things that were needed. One of those things is believability. It’s hard to fathom that one retiree is capable of doing everything that Robert does, including infiltrating the organization of powerful gangsters who are after him. Sounds like fun stuff for the stunt guy.
Cinematically, Fuqua does tell a great story; even if it’s hard to believe that it would actually happen. There’s drama, intrigue, the determination of the underdog, and lots and lots of killing. So, if you like Denzel, gory action, and human heroes who save the day for regular folks, then this is your film.