Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 2014. Columbia Pictures, LStar Capital, Village Roadshow Pictures, Escape Artists, ZHIV Productions, Mace Neufeld Productions, Lonetree Entertainment. Directed by Screenplay by Richard Wenk, based on the television series by Michael Sloan, Richard Lindheim. Cinematography by Mauro Fiore. Produced by Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Tony Eldridge, Mace Neufeld, Alex Siskin, Michael Sloan, Steve Tisch, Denzel Washington, Richard Wenk. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams. Production Design by Naomi Shohan. Costume Design by David C. Robinson. Film Editing by John Refoua. Toronto International Film Festival.
Denzel Washington works at a fictionalized Home Depot and keeps a low profile, helping out co-workers with their attempts at promotions and taking late night meals alone at a local diner. The chats he strikes up with a child prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz) inspire him to vigilante justice when he sees her being abused by her Russian mob boss, so he walks into the man’s office and takes him out along with his entire crew. That should be the end of the story, but these guys were just the tip of the iceberg of a spiderweb of organized crime in working-class Boston (which, thanks to the movies, we always know is the gateway to Hell), and Washington, it turns out, is actually a former FBI agent living a second life after faking his own death. Based on the eighties television series starring Edward Woodard, Washington’s McCall is the cure for all the bullies in the world who take advantage of their having the upper hand, stepping in to change the odds in the victim’s favour and, in one episodic case after another, making sure the good guy wins. The violence is incredibly graphic but there’s no denying how satisfying it is to see arrogant thugs get their comeuppance; Washington’s hard eyes and effortless moves have us gleefully anticipating the next guy he’s going to use as a mop to clean up the streets in this engaging action film. Antoine Fuqua has a good time riding the line between serious drama and shameless indulgence, with the only drawback being an overlong running time that is more indulgent than epic, and a halfhearted attempt at some kind of entomological exploration of each killing that is dressed up with nowhere to go. The idea that Washington scientifically gauges the time he needs to invalidate his opponent and predict all the moves he needs to make is confusing in execution and not clearly linked to the result (see Sherlock Holmes for an example of it done clearly). It’s almost as if a low-grade action film is aiming for some kind of lofty claims to dramatic polish, but overall the experience is not self-important and the results (for those not too squeamish to see the graphic levels of violence involved) are actually really fun.