Reviews, Thriller

The Equalizer

The Equalizer

Copyright © 2014 by Columbia Pictures

Story
A retired black ops specialist, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) returns to his old life after witnessing his teenage friend, Teri/Alina (Chloë Grace Moretz), a Russian escort being violently beaten by her procurer, Slavi (David Meunier). Unable to resolve the matter peacefully, he kills Slavi and his men. The head of the business, Vladimir Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich) deploys his ruthless henchman, Teddy (Marton Csokas) to investigate the deaths through assistance from Frank Masters (David Harbour), a Boston policeman under the mob’s payroll. Always a step ahead, McCall manages to evade Teddy’s trail until the sadist threatens to kill his co-workers in Home Mart, including Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis) whom he has helped train for a position as the store’s security guard.

Review
Here is a fun fact: Washington won his second Oscar for ‘Best Actor’ in a sublime performance as a crooked law enforcement officer in his 2001 partnership with current director of said reboot, Antoine Fuqua. The actor’s subtle yet invigorating depiction in ‘Training Day’ was enough to steal the thunder from frontrunner, Russell Crowe whose odds had been in his favour for a consecutive win since the recognition was first bestowed to the Aussie prior via the sword-and-sandal hit, ‘Gladiator’.

A decade later, the two are in competition again but instead of battling it out in the Dolby Theatre for the opportunity to be grateful on prime time, they are vying for the same project. You do not need three guesses as to who came up victorious. To Crowe’s credit, he may have loss the chance of embodying an efficient former government operative from the Edward Woodward-starred series that ran in the mid-1980s, at least, he is fairly compensated (critically anyway) personifying a biblical saviour in the spring release ‘Noah’.

For one who has never seen let alone heard of its originator, I went in with little expectations and was duly motivated only by Washington and Moretz. From what I gather, the gist and the title are the only components that are used in an otherwise original creation. Positioning himself as what Liam Neeson has accomplished of late, the 59-year-old scores with another number one opener and has the distinction of being the largest September debut for an R-rated picture.

While Neeson’s last few selections i.e ‘Unknown’ and ‘Non-Stop’ are high concept political risk takers, Washington plays it safe for more standard fare. Generic, yes but still engrossing thanks to an immensely likeable lead and memorable supporting works provided by the always dependable Moretz, a scene-stealing comic showstopper from Harbour and Csokas is adequate as the heartless Russian tasked of hunting down McCall.

If halfway through déjà vu begins to kick in, that is because the thrills are a mélange from other action and horror classics. You read right. Horror! Fuqua effectively uses many night scenes to heighten the sense of dread when our Equalizer is out dispensing justice, whether they are the mob, dishonest cops or petty thieves. Though the running time clocks in at 131 minutes, Richard Wenk’s script does not break new ground but is justified by pivotal subplots which integrates coherently to the main story.

They are done right by a skilled director whose last effort is the equally enjoyable ‘Olympus Has Fallen’. While the White House under terrorist command is a comeback vehicle for Gerard Butler, his latest dives into the ongoing fight against the morally challenged that needs to be eradicated for good but only looks poised on becoming bigger threats. Well, if at first you do not succeed, keep on trying (with a sequel or two along the way) and you can be sure there is no crime our man cannot equalize.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references

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Reviews, Thriller

Prisoners

Prisoners

Copyright © 2013 by Warner Bros. Pictures

Story
In the midst of a Thanksgiving dinner invitation from Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy Birch (Viola Davis), both Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) and their guests’ daughter, Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) have gone missing. Detective David Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned to the case but when he is unable to detain prime suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano) whose alleged RV has been parked nearby the Birch residence on the same day, Anna’s father, Keller (Hugh Jackman), abducts Jones and uses all forms of torture to extract information on his child’s whereabouts. Unsuccessful, he confronts his aunt, Holly (Melissa Leo) and discovers a morbid connection to the unsolved juvenile murders and the current kidnapping.

Review
An intimate look at the human psyche and its detrimental effects to an obsession; all in the name of love. It does bring to mind some other notable classics such as ‘To Die For’, ‘Fatal Attraction’ and ‘Misery’. While the intentions of these perpetrators were certainly more devious, would it justify the actions if the cause is nobler in nature? It is easy to pass judgment on psychotic rampages that are clearly out of line but what if the extremity inflicted is to root out an unforgivable deed?

It is an exploration of faith and hope in an abusive and lonely environment disguised as a mystery. Known for his previous Oscar nominated effort ‘Incendies’, Denis Villeneuve steadily builds his movie with a loving family out for a reunion dinner with close friends and the contrast of dining alone. The routine is livened up with a penchant for astronomy trivia. A comforting mood is short lived and quickly turns into a desperate attempt when the daughters of both families vanish without a trace.

From this point on, the events that unfold only set a bleaker and consistently solemn tone throughout the rest of the story. It is a difficult film to bear and even harder to stomach for the use of violence during Dover’s interrogation. For its longer running time, halfway through the investigation, it does drag a little but under the very capable hands of Villeneuve, the course remains on track and finishes off strong (surely worthy of debate with avid fans long after it is over).

Besides acting as a social commentary on abuse and its aftermath, it is a showcase for the ensemble cast to shine. In supporting roles, noteworthy to mention are Dano, Davis and Gyllenhaal who are faultless as suspect number one, grieving mother and relentless police officer respectively. Dano, especially is outstanding as the supposedly mastermind behind this heinous act. He comes across as creepy, innocent and sympathetic all rolled into one.

He is most affecting in an encounter with Jackman about his accomplishment after his release from custody (his sheepish remark to Dover is unabashedly smug while playing coy in the public eye). In return, Jackman mesmerises with his best performance to date. It is no easy feat when all of his fellow co-stars are abundantly talented, yet without his involvement, ‘Prisoners’ would most likely have spiraled into full-on melodrama minus the heart and soul to ground its sometimes preposterous scenarios.

The entire first and second acts are built squarely on Dover’s quest for justice and our Tony winner’s delivery to each minute of it is just superb. His stint in ‘Les Misérables’ must have tapped for a wider range of emotions and they are used to great effect to convey the anguish and desperation of seeking a loved one. The eponymous title may be a reference to the missing but dissect it further, what you will find is a profound look on fractured and lost minds trapped in a cage which begins from the bad to the really sadistic choices made in life.

Rating
Entirety: A-
Acting: A+
Plot: A

Rated R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout

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