At one level, there’s a lot of violence in this film – and most of it is up front and personal – so it’s not a good one to recommend for the genteel churchgoing audience.
But the character that Denzel Washington plays, Robert McCall, is an interesting and complex one. Denzel himself is almost always eminently watchable, so this film just might be of interest to the not-so-squeamish who appreciate something just a little different.
Robert McCall seems to be leading a quiet, unobtrusive life as a blue-collar worker at a home improvement warehouse-type store. He helps customers, he seems to be on good terms with other employees, he appears to be friendly and unassuming and almost anonymous in his private life. He lives alone in a neat little apartment. He reads a lot. He seems to have trouble sleeping at night, so usually he’ll walk to the restaurant/bar down the street at 2 a.m., sit in the corner booth with his hot tea and read a book. And when he puts the book down, it always has to be even with the edge of the table. And the cup and saucer and spoon have to be arranged just so. Yes, we seem to have a little OCD we’re dealing with here, a perfectionism that doesn’t quite jive with his apparent lack of career ambition.
He’ll usually have some quiet conversation with the bartender, but he’s not really chatty. He’ll also speak gently to, and also treat gently, a certain hard-shelled young hooker who hangs out there, Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz). Not many people treat her like a “real” person. Her cell phone rings, the limo comes to pick her up, maybe with the “client” in the backseat already, waiting for her. Sometimes she comes in the bar with obvious markings on her face, like she’s been hit, but she doesn’t ever complain. One night, though, she actually tries to ask her pimp if she could “pass” on a certain customer who is “gross,” and he quickly comes over and takes her away and teaches her enough of a lesson about obedience to land her in the ER. McCall goes to visit her there and something snaps inside him – something that brings back a previous life he thought he’d left behind.
Yes, he’s been a covert government agent. You usually don’t get to retire quietly from that profession. If you surprise everyone, including yourself, and live to a ripe middle age, you’re going to need to disappear so effectively that you may even have to have help staging your own funeral. And then, if you effectively relocate, you better keep a really low profile, and be content to live quietly and simply and under everybody’s radar.
But something about Teri’s situation has brought out McCall’s sympathy. He finds himself indignant toward those who have so effectively imprisoned this young immigrant in a despicable trap from which she can’t escape. No, McCall’s not in love with her. He doesn’t want anything in return for “rescuing” her from her lamentable situation, from which she cannot save herself. Because she can’t take on the whole Russian mob all by herself. But apparently McCall can.
Well, wouldn’t it be nice, at one level, for there to be this anonymous urban Zorro, this ordinary-looking guy who secretly thwarts the crooks and then disappears into the darkness again? This “Equalizer” who destroys wickedness and sin and evil in order to redeem the helpless? Yes, he’s almost a Christ-like figure, though a violent one, without pity or mercy when it comes to eliminating the demons that inhabit the life of this hapless victim.
McCall, backed into a corner by mob hit men at his place of employment, even utilizes creative techniques for the hide-and-seek and search-and-destroy at the end that inevitably trumps all dialogue (death by hand drill?). But any movie character who’s reading 100 classic books of literature, and is currently on “Moby Dick” (his 91st), can’t be all bad, right?
Ronald P. Salfen is the parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.