August 11th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Doctor-patient privilege dies with My Health Record

EDITORIAL By-elections reflect disenchantment with major parties

CANBERRA OBSERVED Longman result may force PM to rethink policies

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS No question about it: the Don is in charge

ENERGY Lower electricity price a fantasy

EUTHANASIA Vulnerable will be victims of Leyonhjelm's deadly bill


PHILOSOPHY On human nature

CULTURE AND SOCIETY The shadow of that hyddeous strength

FICTION A Scent of Musk

MUSIC Globalised Music

CINEMA The Equalizer 2

BOOK REVIEW ADF as modern peacekeepers

BOOK REVIEW The men who built up a great tradition


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The Equalizer 2

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, August 11, 2018

Movies – no matter how realistic they seem – are not real. But they do point to something real. They point to what the creators think matter, and by extension what they think matters to their audience – to what they think their audience wants or needs to hear. Movies about heroes are a good example, as they show not only what a creator thinks is heroic, but also what they think the audience sees as heroic. This heroism is often exaggerated, to make it more apparent and more exciting, but at their core these movies are not about the superpowers or the dramatic showdowns. They’re about what it means to be a hero. They show that being a hero is not about the big things, or the cool things, but about the little, ordinary, everyday things.

This can be seen in The Equalizer and its sequel The Equalizer 2. The Equalizer introduced audiences to Robert McCall (Denzel Washington). Robert is a widower who works in a home improvement store. He’s a good guy, a hard worker who helps out his colleagues and tells the young guys to stop cussing. At night he can’t sleep and goes to a diner where he has a cup of tea, steadily makes his way through the list of the “100 Books You Must Read” and chats with the other customers.

He befriends a young Russian prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz) and encourages her that she can have another life. When she’s beaten within an inch of her life, Robert tries to buy her freedom. The Russian Mafia don’t accept his offer, and laugh about how they will continue to exploit her. Robert makes a split-second decision and kills them all with brutal efficiency. It seems that nice Mr. McCall isn’t just a nice guy, but someone whose past involved a lot of death and destruction.

Thus, Mr. McCall becomes The Equalizer. He helps people, sometimes by showing them how to improve their life, sometimes by helping them achieve their goals, and sometimes by dealing with the obstacles and things outside their control that conspire to stop them improving their lot.

In The Equalizer 2 Mr. McCall continues with his quest. He’s a secretive white knight who makes things right. We still don’t know about his past, except that he worked for the US government in some capacity. He reconnected with an old colleague, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) and her academic husband Brian (Bill Pullman). Susan provides him with information, helps him with his mission, and is his friend. While investigating a suspicious death in Brussels, Susan is killed and Robert contacts her partner – his old partner – David York (Pedro Pascal) to help solve her murder. All the while, Robert is still helping people out – people like Miles (Ashton Sanders), a talented young artist who’s at risk of being recruited by a gang and going down a destructive path.

The Equalizer films are based on the 1980s TV series of the same name that starred Edward Woodward. In both, McCall is a former government operative who wants out, and who wants to help people. He is motivated by a strong sense of justice, not just in helping those in need, but also in reparation for his past sins. This is made explicit in the dialogue where he acknowledges that he does deserve to die for his sins. He doesn’t downplay them or excuse them or claim there is no sin, but he chooses to atone for them. And he seeks to atone for them by doing good.

McCall does not see himself as being somehow better than others – in fact, he knows he’s been far worse. But this self-awareness does not lead to crippling inactivity or passivity; nor does he try to justify himself, or blame others for what he’s done, or claim there is no right and wrong. He takes responsibility for his life, his past, his present and his future.

In doing so McCall becomes the ultimate example of someone who takes responsibility not just for his own actions, but also for making the world better. When Miles asks him why he is cleaning up graffiti, when someone else could do it, he responds by saying that anybody could do it, but nobody does. He steps into the breach and through his actions encourages others to do the same. While the plot of the film is about violent people doing violent things, that is not what drives it. Much like how superheroes are not heroic because of their powers, McCall’s heroism does not come from his talent for violence, but from his ability to do right.

This underlines The Equalizer movies: taking responsibility for one’s life without fear or favour, and doing what one can to make the world a better place.


Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm