'The Equalizer': What the Critics Are Saying

Denzel Washington reunites with "Training Day" director Antoine Fuqua for the action thriller based on the '80s TV series

The Equalizer, out on Friday, updates the television series of the same name, which starred Edward Woodward and ran to 88 episodes across four seasons between 1985-89. Antoine Fuqua's big-screen adaptation has his Training Day star Denzel Washington playing Robert McCall, a former intelligence op who takes an interest in a bedraggled teenaged prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz) hauled off by a pissed-off Russian pimp.

Sony, which is releasing the $55 million action thriller in more than 3,200 theaters, suggests a launch between $25 million and $30 million (though others predict it will soar past $30 million) Nevertheless, the studio is so keen on the movie's prospects following its premiere at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival that it is already developing a sequel.

Read what top critics are saying about The Equalizer:

The Hollywood Reporter's chief film critic Todd McCarthy says, "Washington’s former intelligence op kicks more nasty Russian ass than anyone has onscreen since James Bond," and "this updating of the fondly remembered late-80s TV show is the most exciting, violent and stylish film of its type in a very long while. [It's] viscerally satisfying on a primal level" as it includes "a daringly protracted set-piece of Tarantino-esque length, in which a great deal of talk is followed by violence that is richly satisfying entirely because it is so well deserved. ... the audience knows it’s in good hands and can collectively settle in for a very full meal."

Additionally, "Washington’s cool but massively charismatic performance becomes a powerful magnet for the projection of viewer fantasies," and, "ramping up his style to a more dynamic and elegant level than he’s achieved previously, Fuqua socks over the suspense and action but also takes the time for some quiet, even spare moments to emphasize the hero’s calm and apartness. Mauro Fiore’s cinematography has a rugged beauty and all other behind-the-scenes artisans contribute strongly to a cohesive whole."

The New York Times' A.O. Scott summarizes, "Eventually, he’s going to kill someone, of course, but before he does, The Equalizer is disarmingly quiet, almost as if it were committed to remaining the low-key, lower-middle-class character study that nobody in the theater has bought a ticket to see, ... and the fun — which is to say the escalating bloodshed — begins in earnest. ... We can persuade ourselves that we are watching the spectacle of enacted justice rather than the sentimentalization of a homicidal sociopath." Director Fuqua, "while not the world’s most subtle filmmaker, directs the action sequences with bluntness and clarity and effectively uses his star as an oasis of calm in a jumpy, nasty universe."

Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan calls it "unapologetic in its excessive, frequently grotesque violence," as it "takes advantage of its star-director pairing to elevate its all-too-recognizable story of a man willing to do what it takes to even the odds for the world's beleaguered underdogs." He deems the script "at-times effective," while" Fuqua and Washington share a desire to give the main character equal footing with the expected mind-numbing violence. This has led to an excessive 2-hour, 11-minute length, but it pays off in the end. ... it's a measure of the film's ambitions that a full half-hour passes before it allows itself to show its violent colors."

On the other hand, Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips warns that after "a gory sequence but sharply staged and very swift," "the film gets dumber and more craven, culminating in a protracted melee set in a Home Depot-like hardware emporium. Like a stoic uncle to little Macaulay Culkin in those eerily sadistic Home Alone movies, McCall uses blow torches, hedge clippers, etc., to grind through his opponents." With the exception of some stellar Washington dialogue, "for an hour or so The Equalizer glides along and works; in the second hour, plus change, it turns into a shameless slaughter contrivance with a flabby sense of pace."

The Boston Globe's Ty Burr also notes it as "a brooding, brutal origin tale, one that starts well but steadily caves into genre cliches. It’s a B-movie sheep in A-movie clothing, acceptable meathead mayhem as long as you know what you’re paying for. That said, Washington is never not watchable, and he makes his character a charismatic mystery man."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee