Captain Robinson has a problem.
The movie opens with the veteran submarine captain being informed by a desk jockey that his employment with the salvage company he works for has come to an end. Robinson’s reaction is a mix of shock and anger, as he realizes that the career he has lost his family to has discarded him like so much refuse.
However, a conversation with other unemployed salvers in a pub offers the hope of a privately finance salvage job in the Black Sea…one that would allow him to retire richer than he could ever imagine, so he could attempt to rekindle his relationship with his 12 year-old son, who is being raised by his ex-wife and her new husband. Soon he and his fellow conspirators hatch a plan to reach a Nazi U-boat, which supposedly disappeared in 1940 after taking on a cargo of gold paid to the Nazis by Stalin in a desperate attempt to buy peace with Germany at the outset of the Second World War.
He is soon introduced to a mysterious individual, who offers to provide the necessary financial backing in exchange for 40% of any gold found up to $40,000,000.00, and 20% of any gold above that amount the salvers recover. From there, Robinson, and his friends hatch a plan to buy an old Soviet diesel submarine to use in their attempts to salvage the gold without either the Georgian or the Soviet navies learning of their efforts. In order to keep the costs down, they decide on a half British, half Russian skeleton crew of misfits and psychopaths, and travel to Sevastopol to purchase a floating wreck which is no longer adequate to be repurposed into razor blades, and set to refitting and provisioning for the trip.
You can guess that this is a recipe for disaster, and you would be right, but Jude Law’s performance as the haggard captain convincingly portrays the kind of desperation that would push a man who should know better to seal himself in a tin can with a small crew of people who don’t like or trust their own countrymen, and mix them with an equal number of foreigners who they despise even more. Once the predictable series of events and disasters start to unfold, the good captain becomes even more desperate, and ends up compounding the problem, returning to balance only when he discovers that he and his shrinking crew have been set up by their former employer, and weren’t ever going to be able to keep the tons of gold they sacrificed so much to retrieve, because the corporation and the Georgian government had already divided it among themselves. At this point, the clichéd reimagining of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” ended, as the captain ended up sacrificing himself to save the only two characters who weren’t modern-day pirates.
While there were some “liberties” taken with the script in terms of the science involved in undersea adventures, there was really only one that managed to pull my attention from the story to the gaff and make me say “oh, c’mon…”. I was also put off a bit by the language, but it would be foolish to expect a movie about sailors to feature sailors who didn’t talk like sailors.
Overall, it was an ok story, and a decent diversion for a short time, but it isn’t one that I would be looking to purchase for my collection.
When this movie first came out, I made some jokes about how Hollywood had to put some old white male actor out of work in this “reimagining” of the 80’s television character, and how disappointed I was that some social justice warrior wasn’t starting a hashtag campaign in protest. I confess that while I did so as a joke, I do suffer from a certain annoyance with Hollywood’s proclivity to “reimagine” my childhood, and often cast it in a darker light, rather than simply telling a new story, and that is why I took so long to get around to watching this movie.
My original memories of the show are somewhat vague, as I was still fairly young, and it originally aired at 10 pm on Saturdays, a time when I was normally in bed. I recently borrowed the first season from my local library, and found that the Joel Surnow produced show was fairly well written and acted. It featured Edward Woodward as the “retired” spy who set up shop in New York City after an operation was botched badly by a jittery agent who prevented Robert McCall from keeping his word to the subject of the operation. Because he still had some highly placed friends in the Agency, because he knew where the bodies were buried, and because he agreed to make himself available for certain ops that required his expertise and skill set, the Agency unofficially agreed to look the other way, and not bring him in from the cold. As I watched the episodes in order, I found myself reasonably impressed by the tradecraft written into the series, although some of the technology seems horribly dated in this day and age. However, I believe that one of the things that the original series got absolutely correct was that its main character carried himself like a successful operative would, which is anything but what we see James Bond do in film after film. Woodward’s McCall is an older man, without any distinguishing features that would make him stick out in the average person’s memory. Yes, he had an English accent. Yes, he drove a Jaguar, which was much less common on the nation’s roadways at that time than today. But he also knew how to blend into the crowd. He could, and often did observe without drawing any attention to himself, and if you ran into him on the street, there was nothing about him that would raise your awareness or pique your curiosity unless he wanted it to. That’s why the character worked for several seasons. And that’s why I found it easier to believe he was who he was supposed to be than Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall.
The movie opens quietly, and it doesn’t take long to see that McCall is a man who is hiding, and it isn’t until fifteen minutes or so into the movie that you start to get a glimmer of what it is…who it is…he is hiding from. But it is obvious from the introduction that while he lives a quiet life, it is not who he is. His apartment is spartan, and spotless. Nothing is out-of-place. His bed is made so tightly that quarter could bounce on it. He’s clearly been up since well before dawn. His morning routine shows a rigid discipline, and his own personal maintenance, appearance and demeanor is too focused, too ordered, too strack for him to be the quiet widower working for a home improvement warehouse that he appears to be.
It is his routine that guides him into the conflict, and the confrontation with himself that drives the story, however, as his middle-of-the-night trips to his local 24-hour diner draw him into a friendship with a much younger prostitute working for the local Russian mob. When she makes the mistake of believing that she could be something more, the local mob boss puts her in her place with a brutal beating that sends her to the local ICU, and McCall finds himself, almost absent-mindedly using his formidable skills against the gangsters, and the local cops who are on their payroll. This brings him into conflict with the crime family’s enforcer, “Teddy” (brilliantly portrayed by Marton Csokas), a former Spetznaz member who is unburdened by emotion or sentiment, and who shows a singular determination to find the party responsible for upsetting the enterprise’s apple cart, and make an example of him.
When McCall realizes that his own message has invited a much larger response, he makes a trip to visit his former boss, who still has connections with the Agency, to get intelligence about his new and lethal adversary. She, and her husband are both pleasantly surprised (but not too surprised) to learn that McCall is still alive, after having apparently faked his death shortly after his wife passed away. This lead to one of what I felt were the two most telling sequences in the film, where in a moment of candor, his former boss tells McCall that it is time for him to go be who he is. After he left, her husband asked “Is everything alright? Were you able to help him?”, and she sagely responded “He didn’t come for help. He came for permission.”
This permission wasn’t just official sanction, it was permission to be the person who he promised his dead wife that he would never be again, because that was the person who the world needed him to be. This was the part of the story that the movie got absolutely correct, and because of it, this was the story that I had vainly hoped to see when I watched Harry Brown. Washington’s McCall was the man I expected from Caine’s Brown. A man who could afford to be quiet, because everything about him screamed the motto “Be polite, be courteous, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”
The movie’s other telling moment came after Teddy, who is impersonating one of the dirty cops on his employer’s payroll, confronts McCall, because he doesn’t believe that the intelligence the police have gathered on McCall is correct. While each knew who the other was, neither stepped away from the charade that they had decided to play. McCall played the sort-of-informed citizen, who just happened to be at the restaurant where the mobsters were rapidly and efficiently dispatched, a bystander who wanted to help, but hadn’t seen a thing, and Teddy the detective, just trying to follow up with all potential witnesses. However, McCall’s body language and actions didn’t match those of a harmless and ineffectual widower, and instead sent a very different message than his words. The encounter ended on an awkward note, when McCall’s average citizen asked a provocative question, leaving Teddy to make a poor excuse as he retreated to the waiting SUV driven by one of the dirty cops, who had listened to the exchange without any idea of the conversation the two had physically carried on with each other, leaving Teddy to utter the one truth about Washington’s portrayal of the former spook that was obvious about him from the opening of the movie: “Everything about the man is wrong.”
It isn’t often when there is such an obvious disconnect in a film, and I end up liking it anyway, but this is the case with “The Equalizer”. This might only be because I concluded that Washington’s McCall was never a spy so much as he was a fixer. He wasn’t a man who could be inconspicuous unless he chose to be very conspicuous. He was a man who would be sent to deal with problems in a very permanent fashion, and that would be what would allow him to be the Equalizer in today’s society, in which reason is much discussed, but rarely practiced, and in which the veneer of civilization is polished much more brightly in order to hide just how thin it has come to be.
This is a film I would watch again, because it reflects the world we live in.
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