When you think of the Toronto International Film Festival, you probably thing of highbrow arty fare, impenetrable foreign movies, and the kind of creatively functional, feel-good crowd-pleasers that transcend the festival circuit and go on to make lots of money and win lots of Oscars.
And then there’s “The Equalizer,” Sony’s big-screen, Denzel Washington-led adaptation of the ’80s crime show, which opened this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. In the movie, Washington’s character, a shadowy figure who now works at a Home Depot-style hardware store, gets targeted by Russian mobsters in Boston after he goes out of his way to try and save a young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz).
So, no, it’s not exactly “The King’s Speech.”
But that doesn’t mean that it should be struck from the festival’s program. How does this new “Equalizer” hold up? And, when it opens at the end of the month, should you rush out and see it — or should you stay at home and try to find reruns of the original on some backwater cable channel? Read on to find out!
*Warning: minor spoilers ahead*
1. Denzel Is Super Intense
Denzel Washington is an intense dude. He’s an actor who has a massive screen presence (possibly because he’s tall and cinematographers are always photographing him like he’s towering over a city, Godzilla-style) and a fierce, glittery intelligence, which always comes through (even when he’s portraying a working class character). And in “The Equalizer” he’s super intense, like a tightly coiled tower of nerves. He’s a man with a mysterious past, who currently has OCD (it’s like “As Good As It Gets” with way more killing). It’s good to see a movie that is exclusively to him, as well. He’s one of our most magnetic, charismatic actors and for the past few years he’s had to be one half of a double-bill, usually with some boring white guy like Mark Wahlberg or (dear sweet mother of god) Ryan Reynolds. You’re right, he was great in “Flight.” We always forget about “Flight.”
2. It’s a “Training Day” Reunion
Washington is partnered with his “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua. The last time he worked with Fuqua, Washington was awarded with an Oscar. That won’t be the case here. But it’s still cool that they are back together. It’s certainly clear that the two trust each other immensely and that they seem to try to rise to the occasion. Sadly, there’s no “King Kong ain’t got nothing on me”-type speech. And the movie is sadly doo-rag-free. Ah well. There’s always hope for movie three.
3. Sometimes It Plays Like a Really Great Detective Novel
When “The Equalizer” is on, especially towards the beginning when it’s setting up Denzel and all of his character’s idiosyncratic tics, it feels like the first chapter of a really good detective novel. The stuff with Denzel and his OCD and how he’s slowly brought back into a mystery is all totally great. Quite frankly, there’s no one we want to see setting right the injustices of the world than Denzel. (And, judging by the movie’s last scene, they are certainly setting up a franchise. Sony has already begun developing a sequel.)
4. It Would Have Been Better If Tony Scott Was Around to Direct It
Denzel Washington’s No. 1 collaborator was Tony Scott, who frequently worked with the star on hits like “Crimson Tide” and “Man on Fire.” And watching “The Equalizer,” you can’t think how much better things would have been if Scott was around to direct this thing (the filmmaker took his own life in Los Angeles a few years ago). Scott would have added some trippy, nearly psychedelic visuals to the fairly standard story, creating a hallucinogenic, utterly otherworldly tale of spiritual (as well as physical) retribution. And that would have been amazing. Sometimes you can feel Fuqua aping Scott’s jittery style, and the movie features a score by frequent Scott confederate Harry Gregson-Williams, so it even kind of sounds like a Tony Scott movie. Ah, we miss you Tony. Seriously.
5. Chloe Grace-Moretz Is Great, as Usual
Chloe Grace-Moretz is a terrific young actress, and channels her inner Jodie Foster as a childlike prostitute in “The Equalizer.” But it’s enough to make you want her to choose more normal roles. (She’s in “If I Stay,” but plays a teen hovering between life and death; not exactly normal stuff that kids have to deal with.) Hopefully, after this and “Kick-Ass” and “Carrie,” she’ll choose an age-appropriate role that isn’t also totally filthy. Don’t get us wrong: she’s great, as always. We just want to see her have a little fun next time. Maybe in “Laggies“? Here’s hoping!
6. It’s Insanely Violent
Just for those who get a little squeamish at the sight of blood — “The Equalizer” is insanely violent. This is a movie where gunshots rip apart bodies, people get stabled and tortured regularly, and the only fitting punishment for any crime usually involves, at the very least, a horrendous maiming. Denzel is like a one-man “Final Destination” movie, utilizing whatever is at hand to kick some serious ass. That said, the violence is never too gross. When this thing finally opens, we can honestly assume that audiences will be hooping and hollering. It’s hard not to burst out clapping when Denzel lays the smack down on someone. Seriously.
7. You’ll Never Look at a Hardware Store the Same Way Again
To that end, the entire finale of “The Equalizer” takes place in a Home Depot-style hardware store, with Denzel using various household instruments as apocalyptic death tools. It would be cruel to say any more, but let’s just say the next time you’re going to the hardware store for nails, you’ll probably spend much of the trip fantasizing about all of the creative ways you could murder someone in the space.
8. Marton Csokas Is a Super Creepy Bad Guy
Marton Csokas, who’s been in one of every three movies released in 2014 (off the top of our head we remember him in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”), plays the Russian heavy who is sent to Boston to set things right with Denzel. And he’s really weird and scary. In particular, there’s a scene where he’s reclining in a chair in his hotel and he stretches backwards and it’s really unsettling. It’s like he’s receiving oral sex but there’s no one there (the movie, it should be noted, for all the buckets of blood spilled, is oddly sexless). He reclines, his body roped with Russian prison tattoos, and lets out this gasp. It’s terrifying and bizarre. Go Marton.
9. There Should Have Been More Tension
When you’re an unstoppable killing machine like Denzel Washington, it would be good if you had some obstacles. You can’t just be the best and kill everyone, because that’d be boring. It’s like “Chef” with guns. And “The Equalizer” does run into this problem. It would be much more satisfying if Denzel ran into an adversary that could actually take him on (Marton is good but physically lacking when compared to Denzel). Also, Washington seems to be able to take care of injury with some ingenious McGuyver-ing. There was never any real threat that he wouldn’t make it out of the Home Depot Thunderdome with anything more severe than a scratch.
10. It’s Not as Good as ‘The Guest’ or ‘A Walk Among the Tombstones’
Part of why “The Equalizer” isn’t all that satisfying is that there are a pair of movies, opening up around the same time, that do what “The Equalizer” tries to do, except better. The first is “The Guest,” an independent thriller from filmmakers Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard. It stars “Downton Abbey” star Dan Stevens as a war veteran who goes to check on his fallen comrade’s family. Then things get weird. It’s 100% amazing. The second film, “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” features Liam Neeson as a former police officer (and current unlicensed private eye) and does the “hardboiled crime movie thing” much better than “The Equalizer.” (Also, Liam seems gruff and brutal in ways that Denzel could only dream of.) These two components (detective story and killing machine movie) can be found in these movies to much more satisfying results.