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The Equalizer

tn_equalizerAll things being equal, THE EQUALIZER is Denzel Washington’s TAKEN. It’s the one where they figure out people like to watch a really commanding older actor be smarter than everybody and kill a bunch of criminals. It has some gestures of seriousness and takes a bit to get to the killing, but once it does it’s pretty straight up about being a violent, lowbrow action movie. It even has the Academy Award winner doing the ol’ slo-mo-walking-away-from-a-fiery-explosion shot. I guess he did that in MAN ON FIRE too, and shot more beautifully from what I remember. But this one is more my speed because it’s not trying to rub my nose in the shit, it’s just trying to be stupid fun.

And by the way I apologize for awkwardly shoe-horning “all things being equal” in there at the beginning. It just seemed like something you do. But let’s try to get past it.

Written by Richard Wenk (VAMP, 16 BLOCKS, THE MECHANIC REMAKE, THE EXPENDABLES 2) and sort of based on the ’80s TV show of the same name, this has Denzel (RICOCHET) playing Edward Woodward’s character Bob McCall, now a book-reading, OCD widower square who works at “Home Mart,” wears polo shirts tucked into dad jeans and cleans his New Balance sneakers with a toothbrush every morning. Then one day when an acquaintance from the diner where he hangs out (Chloe Grace Moretz, TODAY YOU DIE) gets badly beaten by her Russian pimp (David Meunier, a.k.a. Cousin Johnny from Justified) Bob decides to try to help her. And it turns out his previous job was at the CIA or something (the agency is not specified) and that he’s real good at massacring a whole bunch of armed criminals using found objects and guns he takes out of their hands. Gino Fellino would be proud. He even sticks a corkscrew in a guy’s chin and we see it poke up into his mouth.

Of course they’re not gonna have Denzel flying around and doing wing chun and shit, so it’s the close up, very fast cut type of action that they use to make normal people into killing machines. But it’s not shaky at least. I found it pretty comprehensible. And they obviously had to think it through, because they start most of the fights in Equalvision: slo-mo p.o.v. shots as McCall looks around at his opponents, examines the objects in the room and plans out his moves. To show that if you’re real smart you can beat everybody up, using your smartness. This is also used for him examining details and clues and shit for detectiving. Luckily just about every bad guy he crosses is plastered in easily identifiable tattoos and other stupid giveaways. When one dipshit robs the Home Mart at gunpoint he allows McCall to see multiple tattoos, a dangly skull trinket, a company logo on his hat (!) and also his license plate. I mean, I hope when Bob tracked this guy down for equalization he gave him a list of all the different ways he could’ve done it.

mp_equalizerNow that the thirst is back, it just so happens that this mild-mannered Bostonian’s acquaintances keep running into major criminal conspiracies even outside of the Russian mafia child prostitution ring, and he finds ways to secretly help. I like that, because before he started Equalizing it seems like his way to try to save the world was lecturing people about eating too much sugar or potato chips. I know he’s trying to help but please, friend, go inside a closet by yourself to do that.

By the way, he’s so picky about his tea that he brings his own packet to the diner, and I don’t think he adds any sweetener. His war on sugar is a genuine health crusade I believe and not setup for a promotional tie-in with Equal brand artificial sweetener.

The number of criminals he faces borders on DEATH WISH sequel comical, and I mean that as a compliment. Sometimes it completely skips over what he does, just shows you the results, leaving it to your imagination. So I like to think he also is doing other ones on the side that we don’t even find out about. We thought he went to bed that night but he snuck out and maybe hobbled a pedophile or something like that.

His obsessive compulsive disorder is never discussed, but is pretty interesting. In his first big showdown when he takes the plunge he repeatedly re-arranges the skull decorations on the pimp’s desk. They all watch him and they can’t figure out if he’s trying to intimidate them or what. They have to laugh. He almost leaves, but turns back around when he decides to kill them all. But first he has to open and close the door 3 times (or some specific number – I’m sure he could tell you). After that the compulsions never get in his way. I didn’t really consider this while watching it, but maybe getting back into the secret agent shit puts his mind at rest.

I don’t remember the show that well, but I believe it took place in New York and had a different backstory for him. I think he had an ex-wife and a son who were still alive, here he’s a widower, no mention of other family members and he faked his death.  Apologies to any Equalizer purists, but I think it’s kind of cool that the show is not well known enough that they have to be beholden to famous catch phrases and shit. There might be a specific reference or two but mostly they just knew that covert-agent-turned-vigilante-for-hire is a cool premise worth re-using. I like that.

It’s a very male type of wish fulfillment, the sort of thing THE GUEST has fun messing with. It’s the white knight fantasy us regular dudes have of being able to surprise everybody, show a motherfucker what’s what and save the day. He even talks about “a knight in a world without knights” or something like that when discussing the themes of a book he’s reading (Don Quixote or Nothing Lasts Forever) or something, but also obviously thinking about what’s going on in his life. Since he’s so keen on drawing parallels between his life and classic works of art I wonder if it ever occurs to him that killing a bunch of dudes to protect a teenage prostitute he met is the same thing crazy fuckin Travis Bickle did in TAXI DRIVER. I’m not saying he’s the same kind of psycho, but you know. It’s worth thinking about.

Anyway there’s one subtle nod to gender equality I dug. Late in the movie he’s suddenly in a drastically different setting, he shows up at this big house somewhere and a guy comes out smiling and shaking his hand like an old friend. Oh shit, it’s Bill Pullman! I guess Bill Pullman is playing like an old agency connection or something who he comes to to get information.

They’re having an awkwardly quiet dinner, and we see that Pullman’s wife is with them too. Hey, wait a minute… they got Melissa Leo just to play the wife?

After dinner when they get to business, though, it’s her that McCall talks to, and we see on the walls the photos of her with presidents and everything. See, Melissa Leo is the old agency buddy. They got Bill Pullman just to play the husband.

(Admittedly he does get to act in one scene, so it’s maybe not as crazy as his amazing flopping-off-a-balcony cameo in THE GRUDGE.)

In my opinion there are not enough great villains in modern action movies – in fact, off the top of my head none come to mind from recent American ones. This one’s not a hall-of-famer or anything but I liked him. He’s this well-dressed Russian guy  played by Martin Csokas, making a stronger impression on me than he did in FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, xXx, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, AEON FLUX or NOAH – but partly because he looks like Kevin Spacey covered in gang tattoos. He’s sent in from higher up to look into these killings, the local mobsters resent him being there, don’t want to work with him. At first he seems like a pretty bland villain. But there’s a scene where he basically pulls an Equalizer, he’s outnumbered by this gang in their own office but he gets sick of them giving him lip so he goes crazy on them. He kills the henchmen and stomps on the boss, and the beating goes on for quite a bit longer than you expect, enough that I started laughing. Okay, villain, you have my attention.

You know what, if this was a PG-13 movie I’m not sure the villain would’ve been allowed to do those extra blows that got my attention. That’s what I think is kind of important about THE EQUALIZER: it’s “Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references.” In other words it’s a studio action movie in the year 2014 that did not restrain itself for the sake of the imaginary little kids that theoretically would buy tickets to it. That gives it a certain leg up over the TAKENs, the BOURNEs, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD,  the most recent EXPENDABLES, etc. Horror has gone through this before. R-rated SCREAM and its copycats made horror popular with teens again, then the remake of THE RING turned out good, and 9-11 made everybody freak out about violence, and all the sudden the genre seemed to be stuck in a PG-13 ghost movie phase. Eventually horror fans got sick of it and the pendulum swung back hard with the invention of SAW, Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, etc.

I never really thought about it, but could that happen in action movies? I don’t know, but I do know that in THE EQUALIZER we have Denzel strangling dudes with barbed wire, drilling people’s heads, impaling people. We’ve all seen worse but it’s kinda thrilling to see a Denzel movie this gruesome. I guess credit for that should go to director Antoine Fuqua (THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS, TEARS OF THE SUN, BROOKLYN’S FINEST) since his SHOOTER and OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN are also R-rated straight ahead action. He’s keeping the tradition alive. And I think I liked this one a little better than either of those.

In my review of A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES last week I said that “it distinguishes itself with taste. It’s willing to be slow and quiet, it takes its sweet time between edits, it communicates more visually than through jibber jabber, the score… is simple and creepy instead of the usual manipulative bombast.” Well, this is more the other kind. It has the generic Tony Scott type thriller score (by Harry Gregson-Wagner [UNSTOPPABLE, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 REMAKE, DEJA VU, MAN ON FIRE]), quick cuts, a completely unrelated rap song on the end credits (seriously, why did they use a song of Eminem talking very personally and specifically about his career? It doesn’t make any sense).

This is not a great one, more of a programmer or whatever. A Denzel action vehicle. But to me that’s something worth existing, and I hope it somehow drags Denzel into the world of increasingly ridiculous sequels. We’ll see. Even though they’re already talking about a part 2 I think he might have too much integrity for that. But at the end McCall is advertising for clients like on the TV show (online now, of course), and he wears darker jeans and shoes, a slightly nicer shirt. He’s still not dressing like a standard cool movie person, but less like a dude that would wear a fannypack. So I think the world wants to see what he’ll do next. Or at least I do. But I would watch an A-TEAM part 2 if they made one so what the hell do I know.

 

acr_equalizer

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 29th, 2014 at 12:26 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

52 Responses to “The Equalizer”

  1. I like that the poster, that is just a photo of Denzel, asks “What do you see when you look at me?” and then immediately answers this question with “Denzel Washington” underneath.

  2. Oh man, just saw this after posting my own review here: http://www.culttvtimes.com/in-play-the-equalizer-2014u-k-theatrical-release/

    As usual, you said everything I was thinking ten times better than I possibly could, Vern. Could not agree more across the board.

  3. So this one’s in the cinemas over here right now but the marketing put me right off. I’d still see it if it looked like another “Dredd” (awful trailer, great movie) but nobody seems to be particularly enthusiastic about it. I think the marketing alone might do it in at the box office though. It just looks like the most generic boring vehicle for Denzel. And honestly I’ve seen too many of those.

    It’s a bit of a pity because I do agree with Vern on this point: “A Denzel action vehicle… is something worth existing.” My problem is that I’ve seen “Unstoppable”, “Inside Man”, “Out of Time”, “The Bone Collector”, “Fallen”, “Crimson Tide”, “Courage Under Fire”, “The Pelican Brief”, “The Siege” and “Virtuosity”. (I’m missing “Training Day”, “Malcolm X”, and “Devil in a Blue Dress”, all of which I’ve heard a lot of good things about.) But of the ones I HAVE seen, only “Courage Under Fire” and “Fallen” really struck me as memorable. I liked “Out of Time” somewhat, and I daresay “The Pelican Brief” and “Crimson Tide” are both technically good movies even if they leave me a little cold. Hell, “Crimson Tide” might be the only one of that entire list where Denzel really gets to show some of his acting chops. What I’m getting at here is that I don’t think most of these movies really make good use of his acting skills.

    Antoine Fuqua did “Replacement Killers” and “Shooter”? I had no idea. I actually quite liked “Shooter” – it probably comes the closest I’ve seen to what I want from a “sniper movie” – but “The Replacement Killers” was IMO a complete waste of Chow-Yun Fat. I will maintain to my grave that “Olympus has Fallen” is a brilliantly subversive movie, but I have no idea whether it got that way through genius or stupidity. What I’m getting at here is that, knowing what else he’s done, Fuqua’s name isn’t enough for me to go out and see one of his movies.

  4. Also thanks for linking to that review HKD. That’s a really good breakdown of the film.

  5. Going to see this at the weekend. Didn’t like the show much but I really like SHOOTER for some reason, but I’m hoping for a lot from Denzel. For a long time now I’ve been getting a bit tired of Denzel’s stoic act. Does he ever play a different kind of character these days? Whenever I see him now, I’m reminded of the SNL UNSTOPPABLE spoof trailer with Scarlet Johansson (‘Boom!!!’).

  6. I sort of loved this but also wish it was better. This could have been his Taken but Taken has such a tight script. This often felt like a collection of scenes. They were awesome scenes, but still. I did like the bad guys but for the most part I got bored whenever Denzel was offscreen. I like Fuqua, he keeps things fun and stupid, but he’s far from a great filmmaker. I’d love a sequel, but I’m pretty sure Denzel is the highest grossing actor never to do a sequel and I think that’s awesome. It’d be cool if he stuck with that. Glad to see people are digging this, but I’m surprised 2 Guns didn’t have more fans. That was one of the few recent old school action movies that was actually a really well crafted film.

  7. I liked THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS. It’s silly and it just clicks for me for some reason.

  8. Limey: “For a long time now I’ve been getting a bit tired of Denzel’s stoic act. Does he ever play a different kind of character these days?”

    I don’t get that. He’s pretty consistently charismatic and funny. I didn’t see Safe House where he looked very serious, but in mostly everything he’s not a one note badass. He doesn’t get credit for it but his comic timing brings a lot of scenes alive, like the scene in this where the “cop” questions him at his apartment.

  9. But would Jordan Belfort’s father approve?

    Well I’m glad to hear it’s enjoyable. It was kind of a weird one for me as I don’t really get why it needs the EQUALIZER name attached, especially since it doesn’t even seem to be an adaptation of the TV series so much as an unnecessary origin story for it. Not that I tend to remember all that much about the original series besides the badass opening sequence:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OGXNzJ2cIE

  10. Loved it. Just loved every minute of it. Fuqua did fantastic work imho. It was so brutal and artful at the same time, easily the best work Fuqua has done since Training Day. But I didn’t feel it was really an action movie, just a fantastically brutal thriller. I’m a child of the 90s so have no connection to the show, so was able to take this as its own entity. I would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t for the couple sat behind me who kept kicking the chairs and talking through it.

  11. Vern, I’m of the opposite mind re: Denzel – after this, 2 GUNS, UNSTOPPABLE, SAFE HOUSE and BOOK OF ELI, all of which are action-fests that I dutifully watched and to some extent enjoyed, I’m ready to see him doing something quieter again. He worked FLIGHT in there too and I loved it, but it’d be cool if he’d do something A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES-y again (I say again because of DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS).

    If I can psychoanalyze a bit, Denzel’s almost 60 and I think he has some awareness that he only has so many years left as a true leading man, and thus he’s making a lot of safer choices to keep his box office clout as strong as he can. And it doesn’t get much safer than laying his life on the line to save/avenge a little white girl.

    SPOILERS AHED

    first I’ll list the stuff I liked to be fair. Fuqua does the coffee shop conversations better than the action, I was really into the texture and acting between Denzel and Moretz – enough so that I didn’t laugh at the bit where the 1940s waiter guy tells her “forget about it honey, go earn your living [as a Chechen child prostitute]”. When he confronts the two protection racket detectives, the actors they got have that ‘shitbag loudmouth cop’ thing down perfectly – the only thing that defies credulity is that they didnt immediately shoot him and plant evidence on him. I also enjoyed the Melissa Leo fakeout you mention, and the scene right before it where they all quietly eat soup and salad together because they’re borderline senior citizens. As with OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN I respect the level of gore Fuqua brings to the table. And finally a movie set in Boston that acknowledges that non-white people live there.

    Anyway I wasn’t in love with this. My two big problems:

    1. Martin Csokas is just a fucking sucky villain. That guy isn’t intimidating at all, and I don’t just mean physically. His pout/sneer combo that he wears for most of the movie reminded me of Blue Steel and added to the impression that he was playing a moody male model. And when he stalks through the Home Mart he moves clumsily, he doesn’t run well and his gun shakes around like he’s not planning on using it – this guy was in Spetsnaz? They should have at least shaped the characterization to fit the actor, don’t try to tell us that he’s an asskicker, make him a cunning lawyer type who doesn’t need to personally kick asses… like an evil Michael Clayton. Failing that, hire Vlad Ivanov from SNOWPIERCER.

    2. Denzel’s Sherlock Vision that he has before fights is antithetical to what makes Spontaneously Violent Old Men so thrilling. When he explodes and fucks a bunch of dudes up it should jolt the audience as much as the bad guys.

    Also the movie keeps cutting around John Equalizer’s coolest parts. It deprives us of a Badass Credentials speech even though other characters spend a lot of the movie puzzling over who McCall is, thereby priming us for the big reveal. And while I admire the balls of the film to end with him literally flying to Russia so he can singlehandedly destroy the entire Russian mob, the way it’s executed left me wanting – it’s a film that’s in love with cool ideas more than functional scenarios, so we’re constantly seeing scenes where Denzel teleports around dressed like Walter White and slo-mo walks through/away from the aftermath of something badass that we didn’t get to see see.

    Now I’m definitely sympathetic to the idea that not showing something can make it more powerful, but I would charge that restraint isn’t what was on the mind of this film that gave us the mother of all Cool Guys Don’t Look At Explosions scenes ever. But maybe this isn’t a great complaint since I didn’t even like most of the action the film did give us. For instance I’ve always wanted to see a cat-and-mouse action scene set in a big box store but this version is just draggy and goofy, albeit slightly redeemed by Denzel stalking and murdering guys like he’s Jason or Freddie Kreuger.

    The coolest part is when Csokas and the corrupt cop guy (another cool little role for David Harbour) kill the Irish gangster and his men in a trailer. The violence is shot and staged in this sudden, matter of fact way, with the cop taking out the two hoods in a single extremely cool take (props for having him use a snubnose revolver) and then Csokas brutally beats Little John.

    But it also casts Denzel’s action scenes in a poor light, since whenever McCall kills someone it’s done in a much more bombastic manner with goofy music (speaking of, no interpolation of the badass 80s EQUALIZER theme? It would’ve been a minor indulgence, even THE LONE RANGER threw it in) and overly flashy moves. A more consistent, less silly action approach would’ve done a lot for the film.

    So, pretty entertaining for at least half a film but wore me down with its run time, sanctimony* and mediocre action. I was never a megafan of MAN ON FIRE, but I have a lot more respect for it after watching this poor man’s version. Tony Scott seems like some kind of capricious cinematic poet to me now that I’ve seen THE EQUALIZER (did anyone catch the Tony Scott homage in this where, I forget the exact scene, but Denzel looks at the sky which suddenly shifts to another color, guitars start churning on the soundtrack, and then we get a bunch of random, edgy cuts before going to the next scene?)

    *I’ve just come up with a personal rule for action movies: if your main character’s a bloodthirsty killer, he can’t also be a self-righteous prick who lectures people after his 19th consecutive gruesome gangland killing of the film. Or if your main character likes to get on a high horse about stuff then he has to be a somewhat nicer guy who only rarely murders people, like Captain America. You can’t do both at once or I’ll start to resent him. Or if you DO do both then you have to make him a really ridiculous borderline parody character like Jack Reacher, or give him more humanizing weaknesses like Creasy had.

  12. Maybe I asked already, but is “stabbing someone in the chin and you see the weapon poke into their mouth” becoming the new “cutting someone to pieces, and they have one last shocked expression on their face before all the pieces detach and fall to the ground”? They did that in the MANIAC remake, I’ve seen it in a couple of other movies, now they do that in this one…

  13. I am surprised one could talk about Denzel as an action star as long as this without mentioning MAN ON FIRE as a big part of his “action canon”. That shit is pretty tight, even though I know a lot of people here has a problem with the aestethics of Tony Scott. At least It´s a lot more coherent than DOMINO. Unfortunately it also has less of Christopher Walken´s font-issues ( the only redeeming feature of that particular film)

  14. So they made a film of ‘The Equalizer’ and DIDN’T use Copeland’s mind-blowing theme music?

    Idiots.

  15. Toxic, I think originally it appeared in a Dario Argento movie (forgot which one), then the Tom Jane PUNISHER brought it to the US Mainstream and I guess now everybody does that.

    How lame would it to see a guy getting shoved something pointy and sharp through his chin and let us see it through his open mouth, while we see through the inside of his side window how a truck suddenly crashes into him and then he gets out and falls into pieces with a surprised expression?

  16. We were trying to see November Man (what I can only assume is Pierce Brosnan’s Taken), but ended up being a few minutes late, so we settled on this one. I enjoyed it. I was very surprised to see at the end it was based on a tv show from the 80s, but then I thought about it, and it really did seem like the first time Denzel goes into eagle-eye mode or whatever, the filmmakers were showing it like “Ok, hardcore fans of the show, here you go, its on now, remember this?” I got no idea if that happens in the tv show, it just seemed like Fuqua and crew were assuming I already had some idea of why that was happening or possibly was expecting it. I mean, i get it, and I saw it in the trailer, and the lack of explanation for a lot of what happens here worked for it, even if that is borderline Boondock Saints action ruining cheesiness. It kind of subverted that I guess, by showing what will happen, ACTUALLY showing it, AND THEN replaying the moneyshots as the investigating crime boss or whatever runs through the crimescene. Anyway, i agree with this being dumb but fun. The worst thing a movie like this can do is be boring and/or joyless, so I guess that’s another point for the home team

  17. CJ, I guess I should watch that Punisher again, in my memories it was really pretty tame and I can’t remember the chin-stabbing part…

    Maybe we should just be happy that filmmakers haven’t started running “explosion victim calmly adjusts a piece of clothing before revealing half their face is missing and collapsing” into the ground yet.

  18. I realize that in my review I kinda acted like this is Denzel’s first action movie. And you guys are right, that’s what he mostly does these days. I guess the reason this stands out in my mind is that it’s more like a stripped down action-star vehicle like could’ve been made for Bronson or somebody. UNSTOPPABLE, SAFE HOUSE and 2 GUNS all had him teamed with a hunky wisecracking younger white guy.

    As for MAN ON FIRE, I will have to watch it again some day. It still puzzles me. On paper the plot, the screenwriter, the cast, the photography, they are all exactly what I look for in a movie, but I hated it at the time. I remember it as just being relentlessly joyless, sadistic, no fun, a bummer, with annoying editing. But that was a long time ago, I would love to find out it was actually better than I gave it credit for.

  19. Yeah that’s true, he does do a lot of team-ups. This is one of the most ‘pure’ action vehicles Denzel’s ever had.

    I rewatched MAN ON FIRE recently – it is sadistic and I’m not a fan of that, and I don’t think I can get it up to defend the editing or pointless subtitles either. But I think I did realize this time why it works, and it’s because it takes a patient approach to building up the characters and relationships. It spends a pretty long while in the beginning of the movie making you buy into Creasy as a character, making you buy into his burgeoning friendship with the little girl, and makes you want to see him pull off a redemptive arc. A lot of the movie after the kidnapping is grim vengeance porn which I’m not a huge fan of, but the overall effect is this weird mix of the cheesiness of Tony Scott’s directorial touches with some pretty classy acting and well drawn characters that ends up being a distinct and memorable combination… kinda like TRUE ROMANCE actually, though clearly not as good.

    Do I like it? I… I dunno. I wouldn’t put it on a list of my favs or rush to see it again. But I do see merit in it now. I honestly couldn’t predict if you’d like it more upon a rewatch, it might be that the things that bothered you the first time around you would just take for granted now, or maybe they’d drive you as crazy as ever.

  20. Oh I also meant to mention, the scene of Creasy’s failed suicide is pretty incredible.

  21. Charming characterizations and visceral killshots aside, this one was a Magna Cum Laude graduate of the Greengrass school of action filmaking. Majoring in, shove the camera into their armpits-shake it all over the damn place-lock a schizophrenic ferret on a crystal meth binge in the editing room 101. An ACR rating of 2 would’ve been extremely generous.
    With regards to the gender stuff, it might be worth ponderin why fellas fixate on the White Knight thing. Because “Be a Woman”, “Woman Up”, “Grow a Pair(of ovaries)” isn’t spat at girls/women. The manhood card is a dangling carrot that’s tied to *doing* as opposed to just being.

  22. I liked Denzel Washington is THE EQUALIZER a lot. It satisfied as an action, a thriller and a stalker/horror. The stalker being Denzel Equalizer as he pulled off more creative, nasty kills in that one sequence in the aisles of Home Mart than Jason did over an entire FRIDAY 13 sequel. The barbed wire strangulation, power tool lobotomy and garden blade neck piercing that Vern highlighted were worthy of a weekend at Crystal Lake.

    The Mark Twain quote at the beginning of the film – “The most important days in a man’s life are the day he is born, and the day he discovers his purpose” – probly raised expectations that there would be some substance to the story, but it’s really just another professional taking out the trash type thing, which is okay by me. Pretty unnecessary quote though. They could have used these quotes –

    “Confucious say man who go to bed with itchy bum, wake up with smelly finger.” – Confucious

    or

    “There’s no ‘I’ in team, but theres a ‘U’ in cunt.” – Kenny Powers

    and they would have been just as useful, in my opinion.

    Also, the second ending, when Denzel goes to Moscow, reminded me of Arnie going to Mexico in SABOTAGE. Pretty cool as a way to show how far these guys are willing to go to track down the trash before they take it out, but again, not really essential to the story.

    And I share Felix’s love for THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS. It’s pretty stripped-back, no-frills action. A much better Chow Y Fat vehicle than the messy THE CORRUPTOR was. And it’s got Michael Henry Rooker as a good guy.

  23. Had a crush on Mira Sorvino in THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS. I wouldn’t mind seeing her again in another action role.

    I cam out of THE EQUALIZER mildly disappointed. It wasn’t bad but I was hoping to be blown away by this.

    I wasn’t.

  24. MAN ON FIRE is sadistic,grim and no fun at all. Which is why it works.

  25. I’m with Shoot on MAN ON FIRE. Also I hope THE EQUALIZER marks the start of a new wave where they use old, slightly boring, TV shows as basis for gritty thrillers.

  26. Yeah Felix, THE EQUALIZER was good, but the whole time I was thinking it’s just a warm-up for JOHN WICK.

    And Mira Sorvino – sexy, and smart. And good with guns. What more could a guy want?

  27. Does MAN ON FIRE really have a sadistic tone? When I think about the tone it reminds me of something like Tropa de Elite films, with all it’s corruption, kidnapping and killings of journalist. I feel it’s a realistic portrait of Latin America, it might have benefit being set in Brazil or Hondouras or something like that instead of Mexica. I think the original book and the 1987 Scott Glenn adaptation was set in Italy, but Italy hasn’t had that much kidnapping compare to Mexico or Brazil.

    MAN ON FIRE also end on an hopeful note, of course greed is an theme in the film with the kidnappers, the corrupt cop and the father that needed money, but even with does thing I don’t think it’s very sadistic or even that grim. The first hour is very hopeful, and motivates the revenge plot of the second half. My only complain is that there is not enough action, most of revenge scene are mostly torturing the kidnappers to death, or shooting them after getting the information, so in that case it’s kinda sadistic, and not much fun, and it doesn’t really have any action with the exception of the kidnapping scene, no fight scene or long gun fights, just some torturer, shotgun shot and a couple of explosions.

    I think this might be the film where Tony Scott’s style works best, of course his style after the Agent Orange commerical and Beat The Devil is very different then his Spy Game/Enemy of the State style, or his Crimson Tide/The Fan style, or his Last Boy Scout/True Romance style, or Beverly Hills Cop 2/Top Gun Style. In MAN ON FIRE Scott uses the style to make it psychological actionfilm, we when avid-farts/fast cutting/rapid movement happens we are inside the mindset of Creasy Bear, it’s shown perfectly in the failed sucide scene, and in the kidnapping scene.

    I’m also one of the few that really likes Domino, I’m in the fan club with Edgar Wright and Tony Scott (Roger Ebert and Richard Roper did also give it 3 stars). Domino is not an actionfilm, it’s a punkrock/acidtrip satire of his actionfilm and Hollywood. If you watch is an actionfilm you will be very disappointed, as the actionscenes are to hyper to work, but as an comedy and satire it’s really funny. There are some hysterical funny scenes in this, everything with Christopher Walken, the Jerry Springer show and the Beverly Hills duo. I have never used mescaline or whatever the drugs they use, but my guess it’s feels like this film, which was an attempt. I guess it’s an art-film actionfilm. Of course the film is not perfect, I don’t think a lot of Richard Kelly’s post 9/11 commentary work, as it’s kinda hard to see, and you only notice after listen to his commentary for the film. I do think Domino is a masterful satire of the Tony Scott actionfilm.

  28. Good points, Ghost. Glad to see Tony´s work at least has some admirers here. I think most people are hard on him because of the actionscenes rather than the bigger picture. I do think the “acidtrip” style of DOMINO is tiresome. It´s like sensory overload. But it works, like you said perfectly for MAN ON FIRE. It´s a gritty arty tough guy-flick with more psychological depth in the depiction of the main protagonist than we are used to thanks to many inventive subjective points of view trickery by Scott .

  29. I finally saw this at a matinee showing yesterday. Just a few things to add; SPOILERS AHEAD if you’ve yet to see it.

    First of all, I had a few issues with how his concern for Chloe Moretz’s character is what sets him off. Yeah, they both hang out at the same all-night diner and have a passing acquaintance, but there’s no emotional bond present like the one he had with Dakota Fanning in MAN ON FIRE. In that movie, when he gears up and goes into Search & Destroy Mode, we know *exactly* where it’s coming from. Here, it just seems like one particular extension of McCall’s inherent altruism, unique for no apparent reason. It felt a bit too pat, and it doesn’t help when Moretz’s character disappears for a long stretch of the movie.

    One thing I noticed: he always seems to visit the diner in the wee hours of the night; he’s got some obvious problems attaining a good night’s sleep. Yet after he slaughters that pesky Russian pimp and his tattooed henchmen, Fuqua purposely follows it with a brief scene of McCall sleeping soundly that evening. Move over, ZzzQuil… an old-school baddie extermination gets the job done a whoooole lot better.

    His mini-crusade against refined sugar is also left unexplained. It really doesn’t have its roots in his OCD, although from a proper nutrition standpoint I can see where he’s coming from. At one point he’s referenced as a widower, and it would’ve been cool had we learned his late wife had been a diabetic whose condition had somehow contributed to her death (“Sammy… it’s time for my shot”).

    I agree with Dikembe; casting Martin Csokas as the Russian cleaner was a crippling mistake. He just doesn’t have the rough edges required to play such a character. Too urbane, and not physically imposing at all (not necessary, but here it would’ve been a decent boost).

    Denzel Washington’s really on point, and I like the fact that his body language and facial expressions tell us soooo much more about what’s going on in McCall’s head than anything in the script. Maybe that’s testament to Washington’s own considerable abilities, maybe just an accumulation of his own experience, but probably a bit of both. Not quite the flame-breathing effort that his other collaboration with Fuqua yielded, but still very sharp.

    Overall, a reasonably good and worthwhile movie that could’ve been much better.

  30. I’ve said it before, but based on Vern’s offhand remarks in this one, I think it bears repeating: I would totally buy Vern’s history of horror filmmaking. Take reviews of the key films of the past forty years, string them together with some essays on trends, fads, etc., that describe each period. Something he’ll consider, I hope.

  31. The Undefeated Gaul

    January 4th, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Pretty late to the party as I often am, but I just saw this and enjoyed it a great deal. I thought it was interesting how Denzel is playing this ultimate nice guy character, helping anyone who asks to achieve their dreams in life etc. but when it’s time for action he becomes this sadistic monster. After he kills the first guy in the Home Mart, why not pick up his special night vision rifle and make quick easy work of the others? No, he’d rather ignore the gun and drill the next guy in the back of the head! It’s not like he’s not good with guns either, he showed that when he perfectly shot Slavi in the throat with another henchman’s gun while the guy was still holding it. Instead it’s like he believes that not only do the bad guys deserve to die, they have to fucking suffer before they do. More evidence for this theory can be found in the way he playfully keeps stabbing a guy with two corkscrews all over his body before delivering the killing blow, or the way he keeps shooting nails into Teddy at the end. This guy truly enjoys his work.

    On the subject of the villain, I gotta disagree with some of you guys above as I think Marton Csokas is great at playing creepy, cruel villains. He’s got this air of menace about him that’s really effective imho. That scene where he’s talking to the prostitute and grabs her arm in a way that he might easily break it, then lets her go and goes to get her a glass of water… That was just intense and creepy, I was really fearing for what he might do to her.

    Overall I think the one thing holding this movie back is its length. It’s too bloated, too many scenes with Denzel talking nice to his fat co-worker and doing random good deeds. I get this is what he does, it’s not just the Russian mob but he likes to go around and equalize all kinds of shit (like mutilating robbers with sledgehammers), but it really dragged down the pacing of the film. There was a lot of fat on this, could and should have been a much tighter little thriller.

  32. Gotta say I was fairly underwhelmed by Fuqua’s latest SOUTHPAW. Can’t put my finger on what it was that didn’t work, but I found it predictable and kinda boring. Gyllenhaal was great, and committed physically and emotionally to the role as usual. The James Horner score was one of those standard generic big movie pieces that were cloying frantically for my emotions, but I was not gonna give over to them. Fuck that. The story has to earn it. I love a good boxing movie, and don’t require one to stray too far from the formula, but this one felt lazy.

    I’ve enjoyed most of Fuqua’s Blowing Shit Up Real Good movies. Maybe he should stick to those.

    My money is on CREED being the middle-weight champ this year.

  33. Saw NEW MAGNIFICENT SEVEN 2016 last night at a preview screening and enjoyed it. I wasn’t expecting it to be anywhere near as good as the original or SEVEN SAMURAI, I just wanted an entertaining Western and it mostly delivered on that. To rank it against other non-Tarantino modern Westerns, I don’t think it is as good as the remakes of 3:10 TO YUMA or TRUE GRIT but delivered what I wanted.

    One of the problems with casting a grade-A movie like Washington in a team movie, is that he outshines everyone else and especially during the final confrontation, I kind of wished it was a solo Washington movie. The only other of the Seven who makes an impression past ‘what that guy did was cool’ was Vincent D’Onofrio. I love it when D’Onfrio goes weird and boy does he go weird in this one. He plays this Grizzly Adams motherfucker who has kept to himself for way too long. Pratt brings the movie down in my opinion. The other Seven aren’t bad purse you just don’t get to really know anything about them other than their gimmick. They try to develop Ethan Hawk’s character but by the end you still don’t know too much about him either.

    The action in the first half I think is solid but the climax decides to do the ‘ol show the audience how chaotic it is by keeping the camera too damn close. The camera is a little shaky but I wouldn’t call it shaky cam. Still not terrible but just a let down when the action was solid prior. Another problem is that the bad guy is weak. One of the strengths of the original is Wallach’s performance and character so it’s disappointing that the best the new could come up with is stereotypical asshole 1% fake religious guy.

    The movie works better when it is being pulpy, not so much when trying to be a serious Western. I really liked it when director Antoine Fuqua played with old cliches like the lone gunman walking into town and the saloon and the one-on-one standoff in the streets. Anyways it’s better than any of the sequels to the original and the TV series from the early ’00s. If you’re looking for an entertaining modern Western, I don’t think you’ll be disapointed.

  34. I’m not surprised that Pratt was underwhelming. In the trailer, he seemed like some kind of meta-commentary on annoying wisecracking sidekicks. I’m flummoxed as to how he got famous playing lovable, hilarious, good-hearted puppydogs and yet Hollywood insists on only casting him as cocky douchebags. This is gonna be a short stay on the A-list if somebody doesn’t give him something to do that reminds us of why we liked him in the first place.

  35. And speaking of the trailer, what’s up with Pratt’s line “Oh good, we got a Mexican” being in there? I get that in the film, it no doubt makes a lot of sense for that character to not be particularly fond of ethnic minorities, and I wouldn’t have a problem with it in that context. But to see that kind of casual racism used in a piece of all-ages, general-audience marketing, and employed by one of the movie’s heroes, well, that’s just fucked up. You know nothing’s in there that hasn’t been focus-grouped to death, which means enough people wrote down “I liked it when he made fun of Mexicans” on their comment cards that the marketing department decided to exploit it as a selling point. “Hey America! Come see that charming fellow from all the talk shows be as prejudiced as you are! You’ll love it!”

    I don’t know. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but it seemed wrong to me, like the marketing was trying to win over the racist demographic that normally wouldn’t go see a Denzel movie in the first place.

  36. Maybe whoever cut the trailer was one of those “Don’t be so P.C., dude” fuckers. Or he thought this was a genuine “Oh good”.

  37. I haven’t really seen any of the trailers for this, but I’m sure I’ll eventually pop over to Redbox and give this a watch on the strength of it being Denzel in a western. As for Fuqua, I certainly haven’t done Vern-grade filmatic analysis of his body of work, but I’ve see a number of them (including, most recently, Equalizer and Southpaw), and I think it’s fair to say that Fuqua falls somewhere in the “competent-to-middling journeyman” spectrum. He’s done 1, maybe 2 unambiguously “good” films (I remember Training Day being fun but pretty forgettable). His main distinguishing trait is a penchant for excessively overcast lighting, which I can only surmise is his very on-the-nose attempt to visually convey a sense of gritty world-weariness. For a film studio, seems like a pretty low-risk, low-reward kind of proposition. Yup, mos def sounding like a Redbox.

  38. Also, I absolutely agree with Poeface concerning Southpaw. This is on paper a fantastic role for the Gyll, and he gives it everything he has, but in the end it’s just an odd melding of Fuqua’s faux-gritty visual look and Book of Job-esque first 100 minutes with a rushed and half-assed triumph-over-adversity final act. It’s visually too dark, and the pacing is a mess, such that nothing feels like it’s earned or sufficiently set up for the punchlines or character arcs to have any felt stakes or payoff. Forrest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, the daughter, and the Gyll himself all show up and do the best they can, but none of their character arcs or interrelationships has the chemistry or pathos it should. Sure, you can track the plot beats, and the characters enter and exit at generally sequentially logical points, but the overall flow is off. It’s just a choppy, halting string of badly lit vignettes that do their best to undermine your investing in the key relationships and conflicts. Translation: If I’m feeling only lukewarm about frigging Ghost Dog and the Gyll in a Mickey-Rocky dynamic, then someone on the filmatic side is seriously screwing the pooch.

  39. Majestyk, Passengers trailer came out and it looks more like the Pratt is more lovable goofball than cocky douchebag.

  40. Skani

    You pretty much nailed how I feel about Fuqua. He is very competent but his movies never really excel. I wouldn’t say any of his movies are bad but none of them really excel or I find myself wanting to rewatch or find that they ever fully excel. So even though it sounds kind of harsh, I think you are kind of right with your declaration that Fuqua is a ‘wait for video’ director. That said I do feel MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is probably his best movie since TRAINING DAY (his only movie that really fully works in my opinion) but it is definitely not IMAX-experience worthy.

  41. If not for his productive partnership with Denzel, Fuqua would have “cable drama director” written all over him. His faux-gritty style, applied with a trowel to every frame, lends the illusion of prestige to common genre fare, allowing him to wallow in salaciousness without being accused of exploitation. I often find him too po-faced for my tastes, taking a perfectly fine pulp yarn and acting like it’s THE WIRE, but when he lightens up a bit and embraces the escapist aspects of the material, I think he does a good job. SHOOTER and OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN are fun movies that play their vicious streaks straight, for example, and I like THE EQUALIZER way more than I ever expected I would, because it doesn’t pretend that a movie about a dude with Asperger’s who slaughters generic thugs with power tools needs to be treated like Oscar bait. It seems like MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is in that vein, so I’ll definitely check it out eventually.

  42. Mr Majestyk,

    MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is a strange in-between (like most of his movies honestly), it is poe-faced and serious at times when it is it doesn’t fully work (like most of Fuqua’s movies) but there are moments of pure pulpy genre goodness (Denzel’s epic and cliched as all get out introduction, Byung-hun Lee’s knife tricks, D’Onfrio’s crazy out of nowhere introduction, the first confrontation with the assholes (they are not traditional bandits here), other moments as well) that are great and had me wishing the whole thing was like those moments. The climatic showdown is a weird, and to me, satisfying blending of two (SPOILERS MAYBE DEPENDING ON HOW SENSITIVE YOU ARE TO INFORMATION THAT GIVES ABSOLUTELY NO DETAILS FOR A MOVIE YOU HAVE NOT SEEN) by being a really overwrought dramatic moment for Denzel but at the same time having the genre-styling sadistic-edge Fuqua brought to OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN. That said, it leans more towards pulp than poe-face though.

    I seem to do this all the time by focusing on the negatives, I enjoyed it and I recommend it dammit. I re-watched the original MAGNIFICENT SEVEN last night and I still feel the remake holds up despite it obviously not being as good as one of the greatest Western/old timey action movies every made. Maybe it’s not rush out and see it, definitely don’t pay IMAX surcharge, but check it out if you like Westerns and haven’t minded the modern ones we’ve been getting every now and then. In conclusion it is a much better movie than JONAH HEX.

  43. I did enjoy the Equalizer, because, c’mon, Vigilante Denzel. You better not screw that up!

    Yeah, GJ and Majestyk, I’m with ya.

    While I’m in cropdust on everyone bummer mode, I generally feel like Denzel’s squandered his past decade–Fuqua, good lookin out, taking the baton from Tony Scott. Still, in spite of himself, he remains incredibly compelling in pretty much anything he does. He can’t stop being Denzel, just like the Gyll (patent pending) can’t stop being the Gyll (registered trademark).

    I have to give Fuqua some credit, because there are plenty of ways for a film to veer into abject suckery, and his films (even Southpaw) rarely do that. At the same time, you think of the budgets and raw talent and charisma he’s working with, and you can’t help but wonder what might be. Magnificent Seven Remake, if we’re both still single in 3 months, I’ll be waiting for you at the top floor of the Redbox down the street.

  44. SOUTHPAW not only veered into abject suckery, it nose-dived off the goddamn cliff, hit every jagged cliche on the way down, ploughed into the ocean then swam in sentimental bullshit for 130 minutes. If it were possible to knock a movie the fuck out, this one would be on the mat.

    I love CREED, though :)

  45. My reaction was more along the lines a “C-” / 2.5 stars, but I enjoyed the nosedive imagery.

  46. Yes, my limbic system goes into overdrive sometimes. I have a good therapist though. A very patient man. He’s helping me to become a more functional member of society. Whatever that means.

    Short version of my instinctive response to SOUTHPAW – it simply didn’t earn it’s ending.

  47. Totes. Your doing great, Poeface. “Serenity now!” lol

  48. Also, you’re, not your. Two many homophones in hear.

  49. I misread it as “Two many homophobes in here”

  50. I’ve been very outspoken in my desire to combat homophonia.

  51. Did you know that because there was an article about a shooting that happened on the set that we’re getting a sequel to this movie?

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