THE EQUALIZER ★★1⁄2
Denzel Washington teams with director Antoine Fuqua for the first time since 2001 (the two had worked on ‘Training Day’’ which also premiered at TIFF and Mr. Washington received the Oscar for his performance in that film). In ‘The Equalizer’, Washington plays an ex-CIA agent turned hardware store employee who befriends a teen prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz). When the girl is badly hurt, he launches a one-man war against the Russian mob. The plot is preposterous, so it is. Fuqua and Washington appear to be paying homage to director Tony Scott (both in terms of its kinetic filmmaking style and the plot similarities to Scott’s revenge flick ‘Man on Fire’). ‘The Equalizer’ doesn’t belong in the Gala section of TIFF. It’s a sadistically violent and bloody picture that plays out more like a Midnight Madness film (and if it did, I probably would have given it 3 stars). Mr. Washington’s well-calibrated performance makes ‘The Equalizer’ better than it should be. I sort of enjoyed it. But, not enough to fully recommend it.
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING ★★★
We take a look into the relationship between world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane. ‘The Theory of Everything’ is adapted from Jane’s autobiography, and maybe because of that, the movie doesn’t get into Mr. Hawking’s head. We learn very little about his work and about him as a father. For a movie about the subject’s belief in the boundlessness of the universe, ‘The Theory of Everything’ feels very much fenced-in. This cosmically life-affirming (if conventional) biopic, however, is the elevated some stunning cinematography and by the performances of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. As of right now, I believe Redmayne is the front-runner for the Best Actor Oscar. It’s hard to imagine anyone not being moved by ‘The Theory of Everything’, which is why (even with some reservations), it gets a pass from me.
99 HOMES ★★★1⁄2
Ramin Bahrani’s ’99 Homes’ is the story about a father (Andrew Garfield) who struggles to get back the home that his family was evicted from by working for the greedy real estate broker (Michael Shannon) who bankrupted him. This is Garfield’s most assured (and grown-up) work to date; here’s hoping he abandons the ‘Spider-Man’ reboot franchise and continues to take on projects such as this. Most would argue that Shannon’s character is the “villain”, but I don’t think so. I found a lot of Shannon’s arguments to be piercingly convincing. The film’s real villain is the system; that the “American government is a government of the winners, for the winners, by the winners.” The losers don’t get bailed out. ’99 Homes’ is a powerful film. Mr. Baharani’s argument isn’t a subtle one, but it isn’t intended to be. This is the world we live in. As the filmmaker said when he introduced the film to TIFF audiences: “We have to reassess.”