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The Equalizer: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

The Equalizer (2014) movie poster The Equalizer

Theatrical Release: September 26, 2014 / Running Time: 132 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Antoine Fuqua / Writers: Richard Wenk (screenplay); Michael Sloan, Richard Lindheim (television series)

Cast: Denzel Washington (Robert McCall), Marton Csokas (Teddy Rensen/Nicolai Itchenko), Chlo Grace Moretz (Teri/Alina), David Harbour (Lt. Frank Masters), Haley Bennett (Mandy), Bill Pullman (Brian Plummer), Melissa Leo (Susan Plummer), David Meunier (Slavi), Johnny Skourtis (Ralphie), Alex Veadov (Tevi), Vladimir Kulich (Vladimir Pushkin), E. Roger Mitchell (Lead Investigator)

Buy The Equalizer at Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

Denzel Washington has maintained movie star status for decades. In recent years, the actor has largely kept to single-handers, action vehicles that exist and succeed on his brand. Whether they are rated R (as they typically are) or PG-13, the thrillers have generally found audiences and made money. Washington has earned occasional acclaim since his Oscar-winning 2001 turn in Training Day (most significantly on 2012's Flight), but it has come on movies with commercial appeal.
While not one to shun prestige, he also won't pursue it by challenging or ostracizing his fan base. Washington even seems to have curbed his directorial ambitions after helming two inspirational true dramas to good reviews and decent returns in moderate wide release. From the looks of it, Washington may like directing. But he loves being a movie star and one of the few today who stick to a comfort zone, regularly sell tickets, and rarely disappoint.

The Equalizer, Washington's latest vehicle and his sixth feature as producer, more than kept his hot streak alive. It narrowly became the actor's fifth movie (and third of the past seven years) to gross over $100 million domestically. This film adapts the CBS television series of the same name that aired over the final four seasons of the 1980s. It was not hugely popular or widely celebrated during its run; it placed in the middle of the pack as far as Nielsen ratings are concerned and earned British leading man Edward Woodward a number of Emmy nominations and a single Golden Globe win. Since then, it hasn't been frequently cited or easily found in syndication. Its Season One DVD sold poorly enough in 2008 for Universal to shelf the remainder (which Canada's Visual Entertainment finally released this past fall, capitalizing on the potentially renewed interest inspired by this reboot).

"The Equalizer" stars Denzel Washington as Robert McCall: helpful home improvement store worker by day, unflinching vigilante by night.

That all meant that built-in awareness and appreciation was limited, freeing this feature film to rest heavily on Washington's star power and reinvent accordingly. Written by 16 Blocks and The Expendables 2 scribe Richard Wenk and directed by Training Day's Antoine Fuqua, the movie opens with a leisurely pace. Thirty minutes pass without anything resembling action, a design that allows the film and its viewers to take in the details. Robert McCall (Washington) is an all-around good guy with a mysterious past. This Bostonian works at home improvement superstore Home Mart, where he looks out for a co-worker trying to lose weight to become a security guard.

In his habitual diner visits (where he's making his way through the 100 Books Everyone Should Read, as his late wife did), Robert also takes interest in the well-being of Alina (working name "Teri") (Chlo Grace Moretz), an underaged escort who is mixed up with the Russian mob. When Alina is abused to the point of hospitalization, Robert reveals only to us his secret life as a vigilante.

Robert differs from other do-gooders in some ways. He always gives the bad guys a way out of their lifestyle, though few take him up on it. Those who don't are treated to swift, brutal justice, which Robert dispenses while his watch keeps time. Using sharp reflexes and great powers of observation (that seem to slow his surroundings), this loner with an ear for street injustice is able to settle scores quickly, violently, and definitively. Our first taste of equalizing sees him take out an entire room full of armed criminals in less than half a minute.

Robert's stealthy vengeance efforts make him the target of Teddy Renser (Marton Csokas), the efficient, unflappable enforcer of the local Russian Mafia. The rest of the film is spent resolving this dispute, with Robert against the entire underworld still seeming like a pretty one-sided fight in his favor.

Russian Mafia enforcer Teddy Rensen/Nicolai Itchenko (Marton Csokas) becomes the leader of the pursuit of Robert McCall. The mistreatment of teenaged prostitute Alina/Teri (Chlo Grace Moretz) motivates Robert to equalize.

The Equalizer plays to the talents of its star. Though he won his biggest awards for playing a bad guy, Washington is inherently likable. He's someone you can easily root for against criminals, even if he is killing them in creatively sadistic ways. You buy Washington as a literate loner, a friendly worker, a quiet outcast, a widower with connections,
and a hardened tech-savvy killer who dispenses justice without hesitation. He does all these things convincingly and the movie has the decency to give these actions meaning with its deliberate presentation.

Even if the movie resorts to conventionality at its ending, with a slightly overextended finale, at least it does so with some imagination. No viewer will say, "Ugh, not another hardware store showdown in which the hero uses lawn tools against the bad guys!"

Fuqua is not a director who is full of surprises, but he is a plenty competent action filmmaker. The Equalizer would be fine in his hands regardless of his leading man, but the confident and comfortable Washington elevates the proceedings just a tiny bit, rendering them more respectable and enjoyable. The experience may not be dramatically different from plenty of similar films and there isn't an idea here that's entirely original. But, as the public's reception demonstrates, there will always be an audience for a satisfactory vengeance thriller, which this narrowly qualifies as.

Three months after its formidable first place opening, The Equalizer hit stores on this final week of 2014 on DVD and in the Blu-ray + Digital HD edition reviewed here.

The Equalizer: Blu-ray + Digital HD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Descriptive Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: December 30, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Equalizer adds to Sony's reputation for sterling Blu-ray transfers. The reasonably stylized 2.40:1 picture has the sharpness, detail, and clarity you expect of a nice-sized studio picture. The default DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is not in the standard 5.1 channels but 7.1. It makes greater impact than most, with volume levels noticeably rising when Robert McCall equalizes. That approach may have you reaching for the remote and adjusting accordingly, or just sitting back and enjoying the potent, immersive, well-mixed sound design.

Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua share laughs as your Vengeance Mode hosts. In the unlikely event that a former child prostitute in need of help is watching The Equalizer bonus material, Chloe Grace Moretz lets them know that help is available.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Sony treats the movie to a hearty slate of all-HD extras beginning with one item that is missing from the special features listings but pops up when you go to play the movie. It is a Vengeance Mode, loosely hosted by Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua, which extends the movie to exactly 155 minutes with a number of short behind-the-scenes featurettes on characters and the filming of major sequences.
The 23 minutes of bonus content is timed to playback, though why you'd want to watch the movie this way, I don't know. Disappointingly, the featurettes aren't available to watch on their own.

More conventional bonuses begin with "Inside The Equalizer" (7:51), a general making-of featurette.

Next, "Denzel Washington: A Different Kind of Superhero" (6:56) has the cast and crew speak highly of the leading man.

"Equalizer Vision: Antoine Fuqua" (7:06) takes a similar approach to the director, with many recognizing what he brought to the film.

"Children of the Night" (5:23) considers the profession of Chlo Grace Moretz's character, revealing the actress talked with former young prostitutes for research.

"One Man Army: Training and Fighting" (6:40) gives thought to Washington's training for action sequences that almost never saw him handling a gun.

Home Mart sells many products you can use against aggressive Russian Mafia assailants. This photo gallery shows Antoine Fuqua is the first to direct Denzel Washington in an apron.

"Home Mart: Taking Care of Business One Bolt at a Time" (2:11) is scored and narrated like a business promo,
but uses clips from the film to demonstrate the store's (deadly) offerings.

A 40-still photo gallery mostly holding behind-the-scenes shots can be navigated by you with or without thumbnails or automatically advanced like a slideshow.

Finally, "Previews" repeats the disc-opening ads, which promote Digital HD UltraViolet, Fury, No Good Deed, Foxcatcher, When the Game Stands Tall, Predestination, and the PlayStation-bound Powers. Equalizer's own trailer is sadly but predictably missing.

The menu attaches score to the poster/cover image (which most would assume features rain rather than a store sprinkler). The Blu-ray kindly resumes playback and also lets you set bookmarks on the film.

Inside the side-snapped, slipcovered blue keepcase, across from a creatively-labeled disc (adapted from the teaser poster above), an insert supplies your Digital HD UltraViolet code (which doubles as Sony Rewards points).

Robert McCall walks away from a fiery explosion like it's no big thing in "The Equalizer."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Equalizer is a serviceable Denzel Washington vehicle. No more, no less. The film does an admirable job of fleshing out its characters and universe, sustaining interest in both until reaching a long, violent show-stopping climax it hasn't sufficiently motivated. Nonetheless, as far as action movies go, you could do much worse than this reboot that requires no prior knowledge or appreciation for the '80s television series.

Sony's Blu-ray provides terrific picture, commanding sound, and a good collection of bonus features. It's a release that will satisfy those who enjoyed the movie enough to expect to revisit it with any regularity.

Buy The Equalizer from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Denzel Washington: Flight Deja Vu He Got Game Unstoppable Remember the Titans The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
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Reviewed December 31, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 Columbia Pictures, Escape Artists, Zhiv, Mace Neufeld Productions, and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.