By guest contributor Brian Ronaghan
In a different life – one I left behind long ago – sometimes I would help people. Someone would want to know if a movie was good, and I would tell him. But there was a tragic death in my past and I still carry the guilt and so I vowed I’d never review a movie again. THEN, sitting in a coffee shop contemplating the bleak nature of the human condition, I meet a new character that brings me back to my old ways. Now, I’m going to righteously kill a LOT of bad guys until– oh, wait, I mean: I’m going to review some movies.
A Walk Among the Tombstones and The Equalizer are so of a piece I could not stop comparing them while watching. You’ve got your Oscar-caliber, A-List Stars. You’ve got your dark world where evil men will always be evil because it’s in their evil nature. And you’ve got your “victim” that pulls our hero back into action.
While I’m not sure either is worth an individual review, doing them together sounds fun.
The Equalizer is based on that 80s TV show you sometimes confuse with The A-Team (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000YENUOK/?tag=slatmaga-20). To atone for his sins, a retired elite CIA badass becomes a vigilante who helps people left behind by the justice system. His tagline (“Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer”) sums up the shtick pretty well.
Meanwhile, A Walk Among the Tombstones is based on a novel by Lawrence Block. It’s part of a mystery series that follows Matt Scudder, an alcoholic cop who accidentally shoots a little girl and then quits the force to become an unlicensed private detective. Scudder’s a great detective character. His self-doubt and frequent failures set him apart in a genre where the wisecracking hero is almost always the smartest guy in the room.
Winner: A Walk Among the Tombstones
This is a tough call. Oskar Schindler vs. Malcolm X. “DENZEL!!!” vs. “that Liam Neesons.” Denzel is 59, Liam 62: both far too old to be kicking ass but both pulling it off. The key thing in this kind of film is fun, and as usual, Denzel delivers. He’s just so damn likable. In contrast, Liam’s dragged down by the moral bleakness of his film. (Also: he STILL has an Irish accent. Just saying.)
Winner: The Equalizer
This one is a no-brainer: Marton Csokas as a Russian mobster in The Equalizer has quite a bit of bad-guy charm, even if his tailored suits and tattoos are a bit cliché. On the other hand, the pair of kidnapper-rapists in A Walk Among the Tombstones are serviceable as creeps but never approach that great villain territory where we truly enjoy seeing them on screen.
Winner: The Equalizer
In The Equalizer, Chloë Grace Moretz of Kick-Ass fame plays a prostitute who dreams of being a singer. (Why is the young girl always obsessed with singing? What about figure skating or horseback riding or hotel and restaurant management?) Anyway, Chloë fights back against her Russian pimp who beats her half to death, the act that brings Denzel out of his peaceful retirement to – ahem – “equalize” things.
In A Walk Among the Tombstones, we have Downtown Abbey‘s Dan Stevens as a drug dealer whose wife was “taken.” Said drug dealer paid the kidnappers’ ransom, but they killed his beloved anyway. Now, he wants our hero Liam to find them, which will lead him on “a walk among the tombstones.” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
This one is a stalemate. I didn’t find Dan Stevens’ drug dealer very compelling, but I wasn’t crazy about Chloë Grace Moretz’s prostitute either and she disappeared for most of the movie. At least the drug dealer in sticks around the whole time, though his character arc didn’t satisfy. Oh, whatever.
Winner: I REFUSE TO PICK A WINNER
The Equalizer is nowhere near as good as Antoine Fuqua’s best film (Training Day), but it is a fun revenge pic. Fuqua adds some clever action touches to Denzel’s copious charm to make an entirely unobjectionable action flick. The Equalizer knows what it is and states it clearly: it’s mainly concerned with how cool Denzel Washington looks when he’s killing bad guys with a corkscrew or a nail gun or his fists. Fuqua excels at this kind of mindless (but fun) brutality.
Scott Frank (The Lookout) tackles a different animal with A Walk Among the Tombstones. Unlike The Equalizer, this film aspires to have some connection to the real world, which Initially made me much more excited for A Walk. I was hoping Frank would take on moral ambiguity the way the Scudder novels did at their best. Unfortunately, it ends up being a genre exercise in nihilism at its darkest.
Frank doesn’t provide any relief from the story’s relentlessly bleak tragedy, nor does he play the mystery angle for any suspense. Even Frank and Neeson’s portrayal of Scudder lacks depth. His brooding is hollow because we never see how his guilt affects him or the story. Instead, the film’s just a succession of dark things that happen ipso facto: simply because everyone in this world is evil. We get it: humans are bad. But at least try to engage me and make me wonder what makes the characters tick!
It’s a shame, because the film could have landed in Mystic River or Prisoners territory: exploring the dark side of human nature in a way that moves us “normal people” in the audience. Instead, it’s a depiction of extreme moral depravity just as divorced from real life as The Equalizer. The only difference is A Walk replaces gleeful violence with fatalistic brooding, which just isn’t as fun.
VERDICT: The Equalizer 5.5/10 beats A Walk Among the Tombstones 4/10