This is the sixth in the Anti-Monitor series, where it’s believed that some films are best reviewed with the utmost incredulity. This week, Matt Fleming and myself banter back and forth over the latest collaboration between director Antoine Fuqua and actor Denzel Washington, the contemporary film remake of The Equalizer. We do our best not to make ageist jokes, ponder the relevance of Russian villainy, and beg for the insurgence of young blood in our actioniers. As always, be wary of spoilers throughout, and please enjoy.
DR: I have seen a lot of movies this year, but not one of them has tried my patience as much as this one.
Matt: This was a movie that dared me not to fall asleep amidst a constant obnoxious score. Simultaneously boring and tedious.
DR: I think it was about a third of the way through the movie that things started to occur to me that I can’t imagine Antoine Fuqua could have intended, things like, “man, that’s some gut on Denzel,” or “wow, I’ve never had foreshadowing hurt me this much before,” or “my god, I forgot to wash the dishes today.” Sorry about that, by the way.
Matt: That’s cool, man, at least you saved me some pizza. Everything from the second act until the final kill is a blur to me. I was dizzy. Fuqua did a really good job showing the inconsequential, yet he obscured all the action. I was actively ready for a commercial break several times.
DR: Also, I guess we’ve been pissed off at the Russians again for long enough that it’s time to make them insufferable sons of bitches in our can-do, rah-rah American films.
Matt: They make for great default villains in an action film hinged upon human trafficking. Or when Kenneth Branagh needs to stretch his accent muscles, like in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. We both know that North Korea is too sensitive for movies. Besides, Ruskies are the best cinematic baddy since the Nazis.
DR: Don’t be so sure. Russia’s pissed at us too, what with them sanctions and all. Shit, they’re even planning to boycott all our flag-waving American movies, seeing as though we’ve been casting all that shade on them for so long via celluloid.
Matt: The biggest action star in the world is Vladimir Putin (shirtless). Anyway, these Russians aren’t, like official Russians, so it’s cool. They just all like creepy tattoos and exploiting young girls for copious amounts of money. At least more than $9000, I guess.
DR: Wasn’t it 9,800, though? Denzel keeps correcting that Russian on the dollar amount, and he keeps petulantly insisting that it’s only 9,000. And they go back and forth on that for 30 seconds longer than was ever necessary. Which is a good metaphor for the entire movie, right there: Fuqua is such a prickly director, so fastidious in his direction, that he keeps insisting the movie is everything other than what it is. And it’s damn near everything an R-rated movie could be, omitting crude humor or even sex. It’s a high-brow action movie so thorough that it becomes glaringly stupid.
Matt: And it starts out promising. The problem I had with Fuqua’s obsessiveness was how unentertaining it became. I understand establishing the kind nature and pure heart of McCall, but his character development could have been reduced by half. So often with this series, movies suffer from bloated editing, unnecessary filler that the filmmakers seem to think make their movies stand out. So much time is wasted hamhandedly showing how nice McCall is, how normal he can be, how picky he is about his tubby buddy’s sandwich. This movie could have sung at 85 minutes, but Antoine Fuqua isn’t making an action movie – he’s making an artful action movie. As if.
DR: If Denzel Washington is really the Equalizer, then he can work the first two hours of my shift tomorrow.
Matt: I don’t know, if he does your job as thoroughly as he kills Russians, he might just replace you. Because Denzel kills the shit out of everyone he can in this movie. Leave no Russian unmurdered, you know?
DR: Oh, he kills all the Russians, all right, but he can’t kill them like a normal person. He has to MacGyver the ultimate demise of every single Slavic immigrant with questionable facial hair, and stare them in the eyes as they slip into oblivion. It’s almost creepy. It’s like – he’s a black ops commando, right? So Fuqua took that one joke in The Simpsons where George H.W. Bush ambushes Homer in the sewer, and he pulls wire from his wristwatch, all “learned this trick in the C.I.A.” and took it way, way too far. How does one pour boiling honey on an open wound and lick his fingers clean, anyway? Is that a thing?
Matt: It must be a thing, because they showed every damned detail of it. You used the correct phrase on our walk home: he “Home Alone-d” the hardware store. He was a better Spider-Man than Spidey this year. He also teaches crooked cops not to extort his tubby friend’s mom. This movie was a Hollywood-budgeted made-for-TV event.
DR: All the money went into the cinematography. Fuqua’s compositions are gorgeous to look at, and if he was director enough to know when to rein in that atrocious score of his, some of the scenes might have had a lasting effect.
Matt: I really liked when he was being active with the camera movement, but I hated how dark so much of the action was. The movie is pretty, but a lot of the choices in style are overboard and the editing was iffy at best. And that score was just too much, both in tone and presence. Like Matrix x 1000.
DR: It looks and feels like a Christopher Nolan movie as scored by Moby. And they even stuck in that Moby cover of Joy Division’s New Dawn Fades that was made specifically for Michael Mann’s Heat. It’s a movie made by a director that obviously loves filmmaking, is inspired by other filmmakers, has known success as a filmmaker, and now is making a movie based on a television show no one under 30 remembers, so he does what such a person would do. He overcompensates.
Matt: You’re on the nose. And he makes this with his muse, who is 20 years too old to believably pull it off. I love Denzel Washington, but in their previous home run, Training Day, it is Denzel’s nuanced performance that really seals the edges. In The Equalizer, Washington replaces occasional wit and that signature bullshit-smirk with tics and compulsions, and his only humanity is relayed through heavy-handed literary allusions. Kudos to his stunt man, though. At least there was more action than in A Walk Among the Tombstones.
DR: Yeah, there was. Isn’t that a shame? Denzel is still game – and looks right enough – to effectively sock evil in the jaw, but after The Expendables 3 came and unceremoniously went, so too did the desire to see men far past their prime kick fake ass.
Matt: Why have we watched so many movies with over-the-hill action heroes so recently? Sorry, Hollywood, I don’t want to see my dad fight human trafficking, deviant sexual crime, or Mel Gibson. I want my dad to relax, eat some ice cream, maybe crack a beer once in a while. Create new stars. Stop relying on dads.
DR: We saw that trailer for Michael Mann’s new cyber-terror flick tonight with Chris Hemsworth, and that – him – is what we want in our action flicks anymore. We want the new, tried, and true action stars to finally step up into these movies and handle their shit. Instead, Hollywood keeps us firmly reminded that these pesky baby-boomers just won’t hurry up and retire already. I agree with you. Give some of us kids a job. We’re ready for it!
Matt: We have seen, and spoken, as an audience this summer. Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth… wait a second…
DR: Yeah, it’s best if we don’t dig too deeply on that one.
Matt: Guardians Of The Galaxy proves that audiences are ready for new, challenging, and fun movies. Not just Old Man on Fire.
DR: Or Deja WHOO, Am I Tired.
Matt: What a Draining Day, amirite?
DR: After Denzel made this movie, He Got Shame. It’s the cinematic equivalent to watching an old man getting out of a chair. If it wasn’t for Chloe Grace Moretz, no one else would have acted in this movie. Denzel Washington would have been Out Of Time.
Matt: If you are lucky enough to get Chloe Moretz in your movie, you use her more than this. She is a gifted young actor. This movie made me want to pick up a six pack and watch Flight.
ANTI-MONITOR – MATT: Antoine Fuqua’s attempted revival of the mid-eighties TV hit The Equalizer is about 15 years late. Denzel Washington is not the man he was when he made Training Day, and it shows in his physicality and his willingness to act outside of stoic obsessiveness. Fuqua spends too much time in the minutiae of the story and wastes time with inconsequential padding. Denzel Washington is droll in his uninspired performance, showing few signs of the charisma he has been blessing films with for over thirty years. It is quite sad to see him relegated to a few physical tics and leaving the rest to stunt doubles.
As an action film, The Equalizer is too busy when it should be focused and too sprawling when it doesn’t matter. The intangibles of the film, like the score, are overbearing, and the viewer is constantly torn between boredom and overstimulation. To compound all this, the one character I seem to care about, Alina, is sidelined for the middle 90 minutes. The people behind this film are out of touch, and The Equalizer feels just as dated as the original series. I know that Fuqua and Washington are capable of more, and it seems a shame they decided to make this geriatric attempt at reigniting an extinguished fire.
ANTI-MONITOR – JARROD: It’s okay if you approach Antoine Fuqua’s film adaptation of The Equalizer confidently – his previous collaboration with Denzel Washington merited the competently-made Training Day, a film that nabbed Washington his first Oscar in a long and storied career. What’s troubling about The Equalizer is that Washington’s long and storied career is the only thing that gives this overlong, over-considered action dud any steam at all.
Washington is still solidly-built to believably snuff out his onscreen nemeses, but Antoine Fuqua’s irksome direction keeps the action separated for far too long by prolonged character building that is at once overwrought and completely unnecessary. Washington’s Robert McCall would have been better served if the character was treated like a Jack Reacher, or a Billy Jack, where the stoic man of peace makes war with little provocation other than the driven desire to do what’s right. Fuqua paints with a fine brush when broad strokes would do just fine.
CONSENSUS: With a bloated story that will make the most ardent action fan squirm in their seats, Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer brings far too many connotations to the term “painstaking.”
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section below.