Again, a movie adaptation of a TV series! This one is a remake of a yet another detective show. Unlike Veronica Mars or Miami Vice, this film adaptation changes the race of the main character and makes him black.
Denzel Washington stars as Robert McCall, an employee at a home improvement store in Boston who lives alone, takes the bus to and from work, likes to read and sits late at night in a local 24-hour diner. He befriends a young prostitute Alina, played by Chloë Grace Moretz. He decides to exact justice or revenge against her employers when he learns that they beat her nearly to death. Things escalate when it's revealed that her employers are deeply connected to brutal and deadly, Russian mobsters.
It becomes evident early on that Robert is not your typical or average, blue-collar, Boston worker. It becomes evident that he and he alone could take on those Russian mobsters and hold his own. His specific past isn't exactly laid out but enough can be inferred. People compare Robert to a lot of comic book, crime fighters like Batman except he doesn't come from a place of wealth. Some compare him to Liam Neeson's character in Taken. There's also some Jason Bourne and James Bond present as well.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua who last directed Olympus Has Fallen and who previously directed Washington in Training Day, Fuqua brings a lot of the same sensibilities from those two films but falls somewhere in between. If anything, the movie leans more toward being a horror film, but one where you root for the serial killer like Michael C. Hall in Dexter.
Of course, this is typical of action movies. We're supposed to delight in watching Bruce Willis in Die Hard kill a bunch of bad guys, especially if they're foreigners. The difference here is what the catalyst is. The Russians beat Alina, which is horrible, but they don't kill her. Robert could have spirited her away without messing with the Russians. However, he specifically goes to their place of business and kills them. They insult him but don't make a move against him. He kills five guys without provocation.
Given how smart, how perceptive and how intuitive Robert is, he must have known that killing these Russians would have consequences. Given current technology, he must have known that he could be tracked down. There's a point in the movie where he asks his chief nemesis Teddy, played by Marton Csokas, how he was tracked down and the answer was so simple that you're rather dumbfounded Robert would even ask.
It also begs the question as to why he would go vigilante and to the extremes he does when he still has such government connections. Later in the film, Robert goes to some friends who apparently are still involved with either the FBI, CIA or whatever organization for which Robert McCall used to work. Instead of murdering a bunch of Russians, he could have built a case against them and then turned that over to the authorities, which is what he eventually does, but there is a kind of shoot first, ask questions later vibe here.
In this story, there are corrupt cops who are in league with the Russian mob. One of which is a cop named Frank, played by David Harbour. Robert goes after him and where those scenes end up is like an oasis in a desert of what becomes sheer violence. Harbour gives a great performance, as he normally does.
The film, however, does take on this tack of the ends justify the means. Yet, aside from Alina being able to start her life over, which Robert could have achieved without all the murder and mayhem that he started, it's not really clear what the wonderful ends are. He claims he wants peace, but there was peace until he stirred things up over one girl who got beat up. Who's his next target Chris Brown?
As with Adam Wingard's The Guest, this film devolves into a final act, which has all the hallmarks of action-horror. Again, it's with the twist that we're supposed to be more on the side of the serial killer. Fuqua and his screenwriter Richard Wenk do a better job of making their titular character more sympathetic and a more watchable figure.
Washington's character is a lot more relatable and understandable in the facade he creates and the so-called good he attempts to do. Fuqua also has a lot more fun with blood, gore and explosions. He almost veers into Michael Bay-level of enjoyment, but at one point I felt like I was watching the third act of Home Alone. A fight with and on top of broken glass was particularly well-choreographed.
Johnny Skourtis who plays Ralphie, Robert's co-worker at the home improvement store, is given a nice arc. Csokas isn't. He's typical bad guy who's taken out without much flare. Robert's final kill rather undercuts the impact of it, making Csokas' death as unsatisfying as Bane's death in The Dark Knight Rises.
Three Stars out of Five. Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references. Running Time: 2 hrs. and 12 mins.