The Equalizer
By John P. McCarthy
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — Vigilante figures can be compelling in part because it’s natural to root against evildoers. And it’s much easier to be drawn in when a likable actor portrays the putative hero.

But no matter how intriguing and righteous an avenging character appears to be — and no matter how heinous the behaviour he combats — cheering for violence is fundamentally perverse.

Based on the late-1980s television series starring Edward Woodward, “The Equalizer” (Columbia) cannot make a morally convincing case for committing brutal acts under the guise of justice. This action thriller is less exploitative than many others of its kind, yet there’s no shortage of objectionable elements — most prominently, an array of gruesome killings.

Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, a quiet, affable man who lives alone in a spare Boston apartment. He’s a neat freak — meticulous to the extent he must surely suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder — an exponent of consuming an all-natural diet, and an insomniac. He reads a lot, wears crisp button-down shirts and practical sneakers, and rides the bus to his job at a home improvement chain store.

Quick to dispense advice, both practical and philosophical, McCall is a natural teacher. (His favourite mantra is “Body. Mind. Spirit.”) He’s also inclined to extend a helping hand, as when he supports his colleague Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis) in his quest to lose weight so he can become a security guard.

Unable to sleep, McCall goes to a local diner every night where he reads classic novels and drinks tea, and where he befriends Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young prostitute working for Russian mobsters.

When she’s severely beaten by her handlers, McCall takes up her cause and demonstrates his aptitude for violence by killing five thugs. Teddy (Marton Csokas), a soulless fixer, is sent from Russia to investigate and McCall responds by going after their entire criminal network, which relies on corrupt police officers.

There’s little mystery surrounding McCall’s former life. He’s a retired intelligence operative, trained to kill and extremely proficient at it. Before she died, he promised his wife he’d stop, but Teri’s plight awakens the vengeful assassin in him.

Washington reunites with director Antoine Fuqua, who steered his Oscar-winning performance as a venal LAPD officer in “Training Day.” Fuqua puts a fairly artful sheen on the action but it’s just window dressing. The movie’s first act has a quiet, melancholy air. When the sleeping warrior wakes, however, it becomes a calculated frenzy of death. McCall dispatches bad guys with grotesque efficiency, using whatever tools are at hand.

No prizes are in the offing for Washington this time around, although he has the calm, middle-aged man of action down pat; he’s easy to watch, even when doing loathsome things. It’s a relatively nuanced, detailed portrait, but there’s nothing to exculpate McCall. He expresses some remorse after his initial outburst, whispering, “I’m sorry” — presumably to his late wife. He also claims he offers his victims the chance to do the right thing.

Yet his primary excuse for his vigilantism is, in effect, that he must do what he was trained to do. Call it the robot defence. A utilitarian, the-ends-justify-the-means explanation is heard when his ex-spymaster, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), assures McCall he must “make the wrong choices to get to the right place.”

When his final victim asks him what he will gain from killing him, McCall replies, “Peace.” Not only is his definition of peace idiosyncratic, it’s impossible to endorse.

The film contains excessive gory violence, including stabbings, gunplay, a near decapitation, torture and a strangling; numerous graphic images; frequent rough, crude and crass language; and some profanity, sexual banter and race baiting. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

The Song
By Joseph McAleer
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — Taking its inspiration from the Old Testament’s Song of Songs, “The Song” (City on a Hill/Samuel Goldwyn) offers a modern-day parable on love, marriage, and remaining open and faithful to God’s plan.

Writer/director Richard Ramsey cleverly weaves passages from the scriptural canticle (attributed to Solomon) to illustrate love’s eddies and currents, from courtship to marriage, children, and building a life together. The result is a fresh, honest, and very Christian take on timeless issues.

Jed King (Alan Powell of the Christian rock band Anthem Lights) is a singer-songwriter looking for his big break. He’s also trying to escape the long shadow of his famous musician father, David King (Aaron Benward).

We learn in flashback that David was a legend on stage, but a train wreck off. He had an affair with a married band member; a child was conceived, but aborted, with David’s approval. When his lover’s husband committed suicide, David married her, and eventually reformed his life, trying to set a better example for their son, Jed.

It’s not surprising that the sins of the father will one day be visited upon the son. But first, things look up for Jed. Performing at a harvest festival, he meets Rose (Ali Faulkner), and it is love at first sight.

“You have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes,” he croons.

After a sweet courtship, they marry, and have a son. Jeb, still madly in love, writes a song for Rose — called, simply, “The Song” — and to his surprise it becomes a breakout hit. Seemingly overnight, Jeb is a big star, and hits the road for a worldwide concert tour.

The years pass, and the pressures of fame and frequent separations put a strain on the marriage. Rose remains faithful, keeping the home fires burning. Jeb is inspired, seeing himself as an evangelizer and healer.

“People come to hear my songs. They are looking for meaning, hope, God,” he tells Rose.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as high-minded. Temptation arrives in raven-haired Shelby (Caitlin Nicol-Thomas), Jeb’s new opening act. Shelby spells trouble, mocking Jeb’s “religious” nature — she prefers to call herself “spiritual” — and encouraging him to get a tattoo (never a good sign).

Needless to say, it’s all downhill from here. Confused and lonely, Jed succumbs, eerily reminiscent of his father’s downward spiral.

Granted, the resolution of “The Song” is predictable, but it is no less refreshing for that. Hollywood can take a lesson from an entertaining film which is openly — and happily — Christian in its outlook, and eager to remind viewers about forgiveness and redemption, as well as the sacredness of married love.

The film contains adulterous situations, suicide, and drug use. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Copyright (c) 2014 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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