There’s a gripping scene in Antoine Fuqua’s justice thriller The Equalizer that’s so Macho, so Red-Blooded and – dare I say – so American that the only way to properly cleanse your palette after watching it is by eating a steak. It isn’t a short sequence, either. The final confrontation between Denzel Washington’s do-gooder and the Russian enforcer he’s opposing is a lengthy, choreographed battle of wits, brawn and endurance that takes place, fittingly, in a big-box tool warehouse.
It’s also the closest thing we have seen to a worthy successor to Die Hard since John McTiernan’s rocket-powered sequel, Die Hard With a Vengeance.
I’m not saying that The Equalizer, which holds its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, is yet another in a tiresome parade of Die Hard clones. It isn’t. Antoine Fuqua and his Training Day lead revive a 1980s television drama about a guardian angel good eye coming to the assistance of not-so-innocents in need. Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, an unassuming employee at a Boston hardware store (no one says Home Depot, but you get the idea) who befriends teenage prostitute Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) during one of his many late-night respites at a quiet diner. Robert likes to read, and make small talk. Teri owes a debt to a seedy Russian gangster. Robert tries to buy her freedom, but ends up inviting far more trouble to his doorstep than anyone expected.
Lucky for Robert, he knows how to behave when trouble comes knocking.
There’s an irony to the fact that The Equalizer opens weeks after Pierce Brosnan tried, and failed, to pull off a similar vehicle fashioned around an old-but-still-lethal agent of destruction. At almost every fork in the metaphorical road, Fuqua and The Equalizer go right where The November Man went wrong. It all builds to a spectacularly violent standoff that I want to celebrate, but only after I have put in the proper spoiler warnings. We’ll have a full review of The Equalizer closer to release. Come back then if you want to remain unspoiled.
Still here? McCall eventually ends up going toe-to-toe with the ruthless Russian enforcer Teddy (Marton Csokas) and his small army of not-small goons. Robert leads them to a familiar battleground – the hardware store he has called "home" for a few years. He cuts the power, triggers the fire alarms, and roams through the shadows, confronting each Russian thug one at a time. And as I watched Denzel Washington adapt on the fly, overcome unexpected obstacles, take a Beating (capital B), but power through, I was reminded of Bruce Willis’ beloved Energizer bunny, John McClane. And not the unstoppable force that plowed through Moscow in the dreadful A Good Day to Die Hard. The vulnerable McClane from the first Die Hard, a noble soul who does the right thing because it is the right thing to do. An overmatched warrior who doesn’t understand when to call it quits. A hero to which we can relate, even though they look suitably larger than life on that big screen.
This isn’t a comparison I throw around lightly. John McTiernan’s first Die Hard is one of my favorite films. Perhaps my favorite film of all time. And during the extended, brutal, tense and terrifying standoff at the conclusion of The Equalizer, I experienced the same rush of adrenaline and glee that washed over me when I cheered on McClane during his adventure in Nakatomi Plaza.
The Equalizer remakes a 1980s TV drama. But it reclaims some of Hollywood’s ‘80s attitude, in the process.