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Movie Review

It's a good thing Robert McCall takes the bus. This is one guy you wouldn't want to accidentally cut off on the freeway.

Oh, he's pleasant enough when you haven't crossed him. In fact, he seems like a really good guy. He works at a Boston Home Mart, cutting plywood and helping customers. He's been training Ralphie, a fellow Home Mart employee, to lose a little weight so the guy can apply for a security guard position. When he can't sleep (which is every night), he heads on down to the local diner and reads, exchanging a friendly word or two with the other night owls. The only time Robert gets pushy is when the subject turns to diet.

"Thought you were giving up on that refined sugar," he chides Teri as she picks at a piece of pie.

"I am," she says, "… one of these days."

Teri's a call girl, probably underage. She asks him about the book he's reading; he questions her eating habits. She'd like to be a singer, and sugar can be murder on the vocal chords. They barely know each other.

Then one dark evening, sporting a fresh bruise on her cheek, Teri sits down beside Robert at his normal table and hands him a CD—a collection of songs she's recorded. Alina's her real name, she tells him. And in the space of a minute or two, without saying much of anything, she somehow spills out her hopelessness, her sorrow over what her life has been, what her life will always be.

"You know what I really am," she says, embarrassed.

"You can be anything you want to be," Robert tells her. And they walk out of the diner together, just talking.

A block or two away, an SUV pulls in front of them. A man gets out, grabs Teri and hits her, forcing her into the vehicle. He looks at Robert and, mistaking him for a John, says Teri's "no good." He has one of his henchmen give Robert a card—advertising Russian prostitutes—and tells him to give the number a jingle to get someone better.

Next time Robert sees Teri, she's in the hospital, her face looking like it's been grated.

He doesn't say hello. She's half unconscious anyway. But in that moment, Robert decides to pay a visit to Slavi, her violent pimp. He hopes the meeting will be just a simple business transaction. But if things turn ugly, Robert knows he can be particularly persuasive when he wants to.

Before Home Mart, Robert killed for a living. He could make it quick or excruciating, using a gun or a knife or a hose or a blowtorch. He can transform into a bear just woken, a wildfire just sparked. And he's about to make Slavi an offer that the man really, really shouldn't refuse.

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Positive Elements

Robert becomes the Equalizer again reluctantly, it would seem. When we first meet him, he's just fine being a regular ol' guy, a friend, an employee, a diner patron. He later says that he laid down his weapons and brutal methods out of respect for his dead wife, and he never planned to pick them up again.

But when he sees such a grave injustice, and when he knows he can do something about it, he begins to feel like he has to act. And while we'll take issue with Robert's way of intervening, his motives are always admirable. He's sort of like Batman, you might say, only with a penchant for death and power tools.

He very much wants to rescue Teri (a victim of human trafficking), and he even tries to do so at first without violence, plopping nearly $10,000 in front of Slavi as payment for her freedom. When he discovers that policemen are shaking down businesses for "protection" money, he gives the cops an opportunity to do the right thing too. He's enraged that these dirty officers are "disrespecting the badge," and he'll do what he can to encourage them to return to the straight and narrow—before laying down the hurt. Indeed, almost every time Robert's about to start maiming and killing folks, he gives them a chance to escape their fearsome fate.

But Robert's much more admirable when he's not the dealer of death. He's a mentor, it seems, for nearly everyone he comes across—encouraging Ralphie to lay off the potato chips and helping the guy and his mother repair their restaurant when it suffers a mysterious electrical fire. When a thug robs the Home Mart, Robert makes the right decision and gives the guy what he wants, protecting innocent lives. (He does get the stolen merchandise back later. Forcibly.) And when Teri gets out of the hospital, Robert gives her a gift, in secret, that will make a huge difference in the girl's life.

His kindness is repaid, particularly by Ralphie, who risks his life to save his friend in a time of need.

Spiritual Content

Ralphie's restaurant-running mother clasps her hands in prayer when her "protection" money is returned. A Russian icon of Madonna and Child hangs in Slavi's lair. (It's sprayed with blood during a battle.) When we first see Teri, she wears huge cross earrings. Her friend Mandy—also a prostitute—wears a necklace with a sideways cross on it. Teddy, The Equalizer's main villain, is covered in satanic tattoos. Robert says his wife was a big reader; when she died he decided to take up the hobby so that "one day we'll have something to talk about" (suggesting a belief in heaven). Slavi snidely asks a henchman if he (Slavi) looks like Jesus Christ.

Sexual Content

Teri wears revealing getups, including super-short shorts, cleavage-baring tops and tight dresses. A website for her prostitution service is covered with pictures of women in lingerie. Characters make crude and lewd remarks about prostitution, masturbation and bits of the human anatomy. We see a guy's torso and quite a lot of his midsection, too, while he showers.

Violent Content

Robert would have us believe that he is a reluctant killer—but once he gets started he's an unstoppable machine, and the results are very, very bloody. Among other things, he jams a corkscrew through a man's chin (and the camera shot is so explicit we see the metal inside his mouth), he hangs a henchman with barbed wire (staring into the eyes of the gasping, struggling man as he chokes and bleeds out), he skewers somebody with a tree trimmer, he repeatedly shoots a guy with a nail gun (pausing after each pull of the trigger to accentuate the agony), he stabs a man to death with shards of glass, he dispatches another dude with a drill (burrowing into the back of the man's neck).

That's one long sentence. But it's not really even long enough, because the carnage just continues and continues. Robert kills 20 or more villains in increasingly "creative" ways. Most deaths involve some sort of blade (we see pictures of the corpses, some sporting grotesque injuries), but he's not above using guns or microwaved oxygen tanks or household electricity or his own neck-snapping hands. Sometimes he aims to hurt, not kill—pummeling a pair of dirty cops into submission until they promise to right their wrongs. Another he threatens (and begins) to kill with carbon monoxide poisoning. When a thug steals a ring, Robert "borrows" a hammer from Home Mart: The ring mysteriously comes back, and we see Robert wiping blood off the hammer before putting it back on display.

He gets shot at least twice, and he painfully patches himself up, once using boiling honey to seal the wound, another time cauterizing it with a heated doorknob. He gets cut and pounded on. One of his friends gets shot. Everyone seems to leave trails of blood behind them as they move about.

Ships and trucks explode. A man is nearly beaten to death—before we watch his assailant picks things (bone fragments?) out of the scrapes on his own knuckles. A woman is strangled. Two crooked cops are found dead, and we're told their testicles were cut off and stuffed in their mouths. (We see pictures of their bloody bodies.) We hear a story that suggests Teddy killed his adoptive mother and father. Someone says a prostitute had her face scarred with battery acid.

Crude or Profane Language

"Why do you curse so much?" Robert gently chastises some of his Home Mart colleagues. We could ask the same question of this movie's scriptwriter. While Robert doesn't do much swearing here, everyone around him seems compelled to make up for his reticence. We hear close to 100 f-words and about a dozen s-words. Also "a--," "b--ch," "h---" and "p---," along with "p---y" and "c--k." Teri flips off a pair of flirty construction workers. God's name is abused a few times, twice with "d--n."

Drug and Alcohol Content

A baddie bites down on a cigarette. Robert buys some over-the-counter medication as a ruse. There's talk of drug dealing.

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

The Equalizer is based on a television show that aired—when else?!—in the 1980s. And while the original show wasn't exactly opposed to showing some violence, this R-rated film version takes things to a new, disturbing level.

While Robert may want to keep his adversaries alive and simply chastened, the movie seems to relish the high degree of pain he inflicts. And the gore he creates. There are heavy doses of sadism administered here that rub against our protagonist's loftier ethos—a desire to see these villains not just eradicated, but made to suffer in extreme ways as they die.

If Robert was in charge of the country's death row inmates, he might initiate a program for penance and reform in hopes that not all would die. If director Antoine Fuqua was making a movie about that same thing, he might simply swap lethal injections for a hungry pack of dogs. Or for a hedge trimmer. Or for an iron maiden filled with wooden skewers.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Denzel Washington as Robert McCall; Marton Csokas as Teddy; Chloë Grace Moretz as Teri; David Harbour as Masters; Haley Bennett as Mandy; Bill Pullman as Brian Plummer; Melissa Leo as Susan Plummer; David Meunier as Slavi; Johnny Skourtis as Ralphie

Distributor

Sony Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

September 26, 2014

On Video

December 30, 2014

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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