A couple days ago I reviewed Inglorious Basterds (2009), which, as a Quentin Tarantino film, is about revenge, in this case of the historical variety. Today, I will be talking about The Equalizer (2014). The name itself should indicate a form of vengeance. It is a film about a guy, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), meting out his own brand of justice while wearing New Balance sneakers.
McCall lives in Boston, and The Equalizer introduces us to him living a quiet, solitary life as regular working Joe at one of those corporate hardware stores. He clearly values organization and order. He also looks out for people, though. One of his co-workers, the overweight Ralph (Johnny Skourtis), wants to become a security guard and McCall is helping him get in shape. McCall has a problem with sleeping, despite his good-doing, and instead spends his nights drinking tea and reading at a local late night diner. It is there that he meets and befriends a young girl, Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), who works as a prostitute for the Russian mob and goes by the name Alina. One night when she does not turn up at the diner, he finds out that she had been beaten nearly to death by one of her clients and ends up in the hospital. Not wishing to see such a young girl who he feels has greater talents suffer anymore (she shows him her music at one point), he finds the gangsters responsible for her unseemly employment to try and convince them to leave her be. They, of course, refuse, seeing her as simply an asset, and they turn down the money he offers in exchange for her freedom. What happens next is why the movie has its title. Gauging the room, McCall sets his watch and proceeds to murder everyone in the room. When he is finished, he stops his watch and seems to assess his performance. He then begins systematically dismantling the Russians’ illegal operations single-handedly, a web of illicit doings that involves buying off the police. This causes the Russians to send in a special hitman of their own, Teddy Rensen (Marton Csokas). McCall and Rensen come face-to-face with each other, and McCall decides to go to his former employer Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), in order to get more information on his new opponent. It is here that we find out that McCall was once basically a contract killer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and that Rensen is actually Nikolai Itchenko, a former Russian agent. Itchenko eventually learns who McCall really is as well, and this leads to a showdown between the two, with a few more Russian henchmen thrown in for good measure, at the hardware store where McCall works. McCall kills them all using an imaginative selection of tools found around the store. Then, apparently sanctioned by the CIA, he goes on to kill the head of the Russian mob. The film ends on a lighter note, however, with Teri out of the hospital and thanking McCall for his help.
While the main focus of The Equalizer is McCall’s bloody reign of destruction on the Russian mob, the character that is most interesting from a Faith perspective is Teri. Clearly she does not like the life of a prostitute, but she sees no alternative after getting mixed up with organized crime. While I do not necessarily want to draw a comparison between McCall and Jesus, it is important to note that Our Savior walked with some people that we would not consider upstanding citizens. In the Gospel of John, Jesus saves a woman (tradition says it was Mary Magdalene) who was about to be stoned as an adulterer. The implication has always thought to have been that she was a prostitute. The point being here is that Jesus showed such a woman mercy, something that people in these situations do not feel a great deal of given that they are letting others pay them for the use of their bodies. Both McCall and Jesus show them that they have value beyond the money they are given for sex. The value of such a gift cannot be emphasized enough.
The Equalizer is rated R, and for good reason. The fight scenes are quite brutal, even if it does have a happy ending. Like with other revenge films, I would simply point out that justice is a bigger concept than what any one man, no matter how “virtuous,” can ever truly comprehend. Still, it is nice to see the redemption that McCall earnestly seeks for those with which he interacts. So it is not a family movie, but it is also not mindless violence.