Mr. Denzel Washington is one of the most accomplished film actors of all time (not perhaps but is). As a fan of his work, I would argue that he provides a template for many people who would kill to have his career in terms of Oscar wins and box office gold. But like the man said in numerous interviews, he had to work hard for it. And I believe this can be seen in terms of his film choices.
Washington appears to be someone who has carefully crafted out a career that allows him to toggle between so-called serious and commercial films. But more importantly, I believe the toggling has allowed him to control his career. By starring in action films, Washington adopts the “one for them and one for me” strategy of acting in commercial films to help finance more risky and personal films.
But this does not mean that the star does not take his action persona seriously. For many actors, the over-the-topness of action films can often be an excuse for them to not act but to solely focus on delivering the action in action sequences. And this approach to acting in action films often ends up making the whole affair rather perfunctory and transactional.
But Washington’s attitude to his role as Robert McCall in the Equalizer films has produced a character that is not only a “hard body” action hero but a character that is wounded and haunted by his past. This makes his aging action hero not only grounded (realistic) but also makes the character’s achievements in “taking out” the bad guys more rewarding because the portrayal of aging naturally adds history and gravitas to the character. In other words, the God status of action heroes is made more relatable because McCall is not perfect but is haunted by his past. He is a flawed character and the Equalizer films made a point to dwell and develop his social and altruistic side.
So when McCall is forced to exact vengeance and retribution on the bad guys, the pleasure of seeing good triumph over evil increases. While his character is essentially someone who is a loner, he is not alone. The films made it clear that the character has fostered close friends and confidantes. This socialization of the aging action hero character thus adds significance to the rationale of McCall’s action to protect and avenge his friends. And his victories are made more rewarding because of the character’s personal relationships with other characters in the films.
The awesomeness of Denzel Washington’s Equalizer films thus lies not so much in the fight scene (although they are spectacular) but in that they are informed by the character’s overall narrative, personality, and drive. He is not necessarily motivated because of a need to kill and destroy but to protect and avenge his friends. Instead the awesomeness of the films comes from watching a character seeking to “equalise” or avenge his friends – much as most of us would do if our friends or loved ones are threatened.