Denzel Washington plays Bob, an ordinary hardware store worker and all-round nice guy, working his way through the hundred novels to read before you die, and befriending a young sex worker (Chloe Moretz) in his local diner. But when she is mistreated by the criminals she works for, Bob sets out to right some wrongs in society – equalise them, if you will – and it soon becomes apparent there’s more to him than meets the eye.
Much of this film hangs on the superb performance of Washington who lends it a calm air of sophistication in spite of its B movie plot. It’s clearly been made with a care and attention not always common in the genre, with surprisingly subtlety in its story telling.
Washington’s character, with his mysterious military training, is an invincible action movie character, straight out of the 80s, but he doesn’t take any pleasure in killing, viewing it as unpleasant necessity. As such there’s no theatricality and no kiss-off lines, which sounds like it could make the film less fun, but it actually works really well. While Bob doesn’t kill for fun, he’s so ice cool and even-tempered that he’s a magnetic presence onscreen.
But his ordinary life is even better imagined than his ruthless night time crime fighter persona. A nice guy with a normal job and friends makes him stand out against the paranoid loners, like Bruce Wayne or Walter Kovacs, that we’ve gotten used to in this type of film. Brutal violence is combined with humanity and likeability so this tough guy doesn’t feel like an unrelatable monster. Taking a while to get going, it was important to get the human side right, and the scenes of characters talking to each other are as enjoyable as the scenes where they attack each other with nail guns.
The fighting is fantastically well handled. In spite of the fact Bob is never in any danger the film manages to be tense and engaging, with the coolest tough guy walking away from an explosion scene ever put to film. What could have been a crude Hobo With a Shotgun style tale of bloody vigilantism is a superbly crafted piece of entertainment, thanks to skilful direction and excellent performances. Bring on the sequalizer.