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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



The Equalizer 2, Review: Unequal combat

The Equalizer 2, Review: Unequal combat

When you have one man battling four or more mercenaries, the combat is apparently unequal. Turns out that the inequality is in favour of the one man, since he is played by Denzel Washington, the protagonist, who does the requisite equalising. Washington is not the quintessential action hero, though he tries hard to be one. Passable stuff that keeps you mildly excited with its action, and takes pains to make the story move at a reasonable pace, making things intelligible, which is a welcome change in the genre.

Former Marine and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) spy Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) now works as a Lyft (budget taxi) driver and assists the less fortunate with the help of his friend, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo). McCall anonymously travels to Istanbul by train to retrieve a local bookstore owner's daughter who was kidnapped by her father, just to spite her mother. After a violent encounter in the restaurant car with the man and his cronies, he has the girl rescued. McCall also mercilessly beats a group of men for drugging and raping an intern who he took to the hospital in his taxi, to have her stomach pumped.

Besides these action rescues and equalisings, McCall also helps Sam Rubinstein (Orson Bean), an elderly Holocaust survivor who is looking for a painting of his sister; the two siblings were separated when they were transported to different camps by the Nazis, but the painting is found to be auctioned off and Sam cannot prove that he owns the painting.

One day, Susan and DIA operative Dave York (Pedro Pascal), McCall's former teammate, are called to investigate an apparent murder-suicide of an agent and his wife in Brussels, whereas it is, in reality, a brutal contract killing. Susan is brutally murdered in what seems to be a robbery, after a violent struggle. On receiving the news of Susan's death, McCall immediately investigates both, her death, and the case she was investigating. McCall determines that the assailants were hired to kill Susan because they knew on which floor her room was located. McCall also determines that the murder-suicide incident into which Susan was looking was, in fact, a murder.

The Equalizer was released in 2014, with the same actor and director, Antoine Fuqua. It is a first for Denzel Washington in terms of a sequel, and his fourth partnership with Fuqua. The series is based on TV plots written by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim. Screen adaptation is by Richard Wenk (The Expendables 2, Jack Reacher--Never Go back, The Magnificent Seven). Action sequences are sharp and swift, while the non-action narrative is allowed to grow on you. Sympathy is garnered by the inclusion of holocaust victims and a misled black teenager who comes under the tutelage of McCall. These sub-plots seem somewhat contrived and detract from the main dish: the murders in Belgium and the rogue operatives that need to be eliminated.

Black director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, The Magnificent Seven, Olympus Has Fallen) is 52 to Wenk’s 62 and Washington’s 63, all in the evening of their life, and in no mood to go bang-bang-bang. He has shaped the characters well and the relationships between them are well delineated. McCall comes across as a detective-cum-unbeatable combatant, something that takes some salt to swallow it with.

Denzel Washington has the features and depth of expression to pull of the role, right from his walk, down to his poker-faced icy dialogue, to his blood letting and bone crushing moves. Melissa Leo is seen first as a sympathising friend of McCall and then one who fights for survival against several armed men. She’s thin, but far from frail. Pedro Pascal (Chilean-American; Game of Thrones, Narcos)’s looks are a giveaway of his designs and it does not come as a surprise that he is a baddie. Bill Pullman is Susan’s husband, who is next on the assassin’s list, for no fault other than being a ‘loose end’. Good bit of casting.

Sakina Jaffrey (The Domino Effect, Claire in Motion, The Meyerowitz Stories), daughter of Indian actors Saeed and Madhur Jaffrey, is cast as a woman who cultivates a garden patch outside the mansion and is part of another side-plot that includes Ashton Sanders (The Retrieval, Straight Outta Compton, Moonlight) as the black boy. Sanders is highly impressive here too, after his Moonlight plaudits. 90 year-old TV actor Orson Bean is a good choice as Sam Rubinstein.

In supporting roles are Jonathan Scarfe as Resnik, Kazy Tauginas as Ari and Garrett Golden as Kovac, three of the four rogue agents. Adam Karst acts as the Turkish Father. But nobody, just nobody, is a match for the equalizer.

English cinematographer Oliver Wood (Bourne franchise, Die-Hard 2) captures the city from many innovative angles, including high, top angles, wide spanning pan shots and some scintillating lighting.

A genre-specific film, the Equalizer has nothing really new to offer, except the sub-plots, which, as it turns out, detract rather than attract. They do moisten your eyes a bit, but you have come to the cinema most likely expecting bang for the buck, and you might be just that bit disappointed at the end of 121 minutes.

Rating: ** ½


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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