The idea of rough justice has had no more committed advocate over the years than Hollywood. In this nasty but enthralling homage to the vigilante, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) beats about a dozen blokes to a pulp, with his bare hands, merely as a preamble to the commencement of the main story. But that’s the thing with this type of movie – it sets up the viewer to really want those kidnappers and rapists to get what Denzel dishes out to them. Director Antoine Fuqua, with an impressive CV of ultra-violent flicks to his credit, presses every one of our dark psychological buttons to have us willingly embrace the law of the jungle as the sainted Denzel takes on a crew of irredeemably hateful bad guys. McCall, an ex-Marine with a day job as driver for an Uber-like company in Boston, has maintained his connection with an international security organisation. When its head and old friend (Melissa Leo) is brutally murdered in Brussels, matters get personal for the fastidious slayer of evildoers. At 63, Denzel seems a bit old for the part, especially when up against armed maniacs who are half his age, which is a nagging problem that I was never able to fully dismiss. Nevertheless, Fuqua’s eye for detail and mastery of his material ensure that the end product is polished, pulsating and flawless in its execution. I can’t recall the last time I felt such heart-stopping tension as when a school kid (Ashton Sanders) who McCall has taken under his wing is alone and hiding from thugs in his mentor’s apartment, and as somebody whose eyes glaze over during any car-screeching sequence, I was riveted by the scene in which McCall is attacked by a passenger in the back seat. The climax, when he has it out with four killers, including the arch villain, is excessive but fabulously shot in a raging coastal storm. It is morally dubious to praise films such as this, but it’s done well enough to knock any critic off his high horse.
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