3 out of 4 stars
Denzel Washington’s performance in The Equalizer has made his point perfectly clear: He deserves his own franchise — now.
Liam Neeson, 62, has Taken. Sylvester Stallone, 68, has The Expendables. And when Die Hard 6 is expected to hit theaters next year, Bruce Willis will be 60, nearly three decades older than he was when he said “yippee-ki-yay,” well, if you don’t know the rest of the phrase then stop reading now.
This raises quite possibly the most intriguing question since trying to figure out Keyser Söze’s identity in The Usual Suspects before Kevin Spacey walks out of the police station: How does Washington, a two-time Oscar winner, not have a franchise and Willis has been able to cash in on five Die Hards with another on the way? Somewhere, Hans Gruber is rolling in his grave.
Washington, who turns 60 on Dec. 28, only has gotten better with time – a point driven home in The Equalizer, an adaptation of the 1980s TV show in which a deadly, retired CIA agent turns into an avenging angel who uses a stopwatch to time his killings.
Washington plays Robert McCall, whose life is a routine of sitting alone in his immaculate apartment in Boston, working at a big box hardware store and reading classic literature at his favorite diner at 2 a.m. McCall tries to be everybody’s friend, whether its helping co-worker Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis) lose weight so he can become a security guard or urging teenage Russian prostitute Elena (Chloe Grace Moretz) to pursue her dreams as a singer by “changing her world.”
But McCall has a beast brewing inside, part of him he can’t keep locked up. When Elena’s Russian mob boss-pimp beats her nearly to death, McCall’s ass-kicking alter ego is brought to life. McCall is a thinking man’ — or in the case senior citizen’s — killer. He gives those who do wrong the chance to make it right before taking their lives, be it with his fists, gun or corkscrew.
It’s tough to take your eyes off McCall as he turns Boston into his own personal payback playground. It’s Washington at his finest, as he blends his subtle mannerisms with well-timed lines that are spoken with purpose. He’s every bit as polarizing – and easy to cheer for – as Neeson’s Bryan Mills, Willis’ John McClane and Stallone’s Barney Ross, which is why The Equalizer is Washington’s best chance at a franchise.
The Equalizer has franchise written all over it because Washington and director Antoine Fuqua pack one of the biggest one-two punches in Hollywood.
The last time these guys hooked up, in 2001’s Training Day, Washington won the Academy Award for Best Actor, as the film brought home more than $100 million worldwide, including more than $76 million domestically. Fuqua has established himself as one of the premier directors in the action genre with his previous three films Shooter (2007), Brooklyn’s Finest (2010), Olympus Has Fallen (2013) collectively making more than $293 million worldwide.
The Equalizer isn’t better than Training Day, which should have been nominated for Best Picture – please don’t tell me it wasn’t better than nominated films In The Bedroom, Gosford Park and Moulin Rouge! – but it’s well worth seeing in the theater.
Men will like it because, well, there’s plenty of bloody violence and things get blown up. Women will like it because Washington is still sexy and shows compassion and selflessness before busting skulls.
Washington pulled of an aeronautical miracle as a pilot in Flight, avenged a wrongful conviction in The Hurricane, halted a runaway locomotive in Unstoppable, stopped a murderous thief in The Taking of Pelham 123 and even ruled the heroin trade in American Gangster.
Now, it’s time for Washington to prove he can carry a franchise, the only unchecked box in a storied career.
If The Equalizer isn’t the one, then Washington will have been treated unfairly.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 18 years experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He’s also an editor for CBSSports.com. He’s crossing his fingers the only baseball team in Baltimore that will contend for a title this summer won’t be his fantasy squad, the Catonsville Cartel. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.