An excerpt from my script review for The Equalizer Script which will be available 9/29/14:
Want the full review? Follow this link to the Equalizer Script Review.
1.) Marketability of the Idea
It’s a cool redemption story.
What’s better, is I know Denzel was cast as McCall, but as I read I could easily see the part fitting Jason Statham, Sly Stallone, or any one of a few dozen action stars, both new and old.
And that’s good.
As writers we have an artistic ideal to strive for, but from a business standpoint we need to be open to possibilities that differ from our stylistic opinions.
With agencies, studios, and production companies having deals with certain actors and actresses, that means we’ll need to be flexible, especially if we’re still hoping to turn writing into a career.
Anyway, this was a good idea for a movie, and left this reader slightly confused as to why it was released in the fall and not sometime during a previously stale summer.
And be sure to check out our Notes Service, where I give my detailed thoughts and suggestions on your script.
Guest Review Contest Entry – Richard
The Equalizer – Script Analysis
Standard Coverage Rating Scale from:
Excellent | Good | Fair | Poor
Story Line: Good
Overall: Excellent | Recommended
I want to discuss THE EQUALIZER script because it is not an original story and it’s chock full of seemingly stock characters and situational tropes. And yet it’s one of my favorite scripts. The only scripts I’ve returned to as much are written by Tony Gilroy.
(Speaking of Gilroy, I think the Gilroy brothers’ Bourne scripts set a new standard for the super-agent story and have elevated the Bond films and influenced new franchises like Taken, Salt and now The Equalizer.)
Based on a successful but forgettable ’80s tv show, the idea of an ex-CIA operative meting out justice isn’t particularly fresh. Throw in a prostitute with a heart of gold, Russian mobsters, rogue CIA agents and this story is steeped in clichés. So why does it work? Why did Denzel Washington love it?
Well, it’s always about execution, especially when you’re dealing with a well-trodden genre. The descriptions are spare but evocative, the characters compelling, the dialogue efficient. They coalesce into a familiar yet entertaining story.
It’s the writing that stands out. I’m going to go as far as to say that the script is better than the movie.
It’s been said that screenwriting is in some ways more akin to poetry than fiction. One of the intangibles of scriptwriting is tone. The beauty and concision of Wenk’s writing makes the script a seamless, effortless read.
Attempts at spare descriptions often lead to bland writing. I would not recommend leaving out pronouns and verbs, but Wenk shows how it’s done. He paints pictures with a few brush strokes.
Look at how quickly he gets us into the script on the first page – no FADE IN, no INT. or EXT., rather an image of an object.
Page 1 ****
AN ALARM CLOCK
Hits 5:30 AM and goes off.
Grey morning light. Alarm still BUZZING because the room’s
Bed already made. Tight enough to flip a quarter. Room
Spartan and immaculate.
Inside the BATHROOM…
A HAND WIPES STEAM OFF A FOGGED BATHROOM MIRROR
Just enough to see the straight razor gliding across the
final patch of lather…
Visually the first two pages look like a series of haikus. As a reader, I know I’m in the hands of a master and the script, despite whatever flaws may occur, will probably be a quick and painless read.
Want efficient, evocative exposition?
Page 9 ****
McCall stands in line with OTHER WORKERS.
FACES in line not much different from his. Men not where
they expected to be at this stage in life.
Beautiful and kind of heartbreaking. You can’t teach this kind of writing, but we can learn the importance of tone.
How about the first major action set piece?
Page 24 ****
Turns. Half-lidded. Dull. Like an alligator. WE PUSH INTO
THE PUPIL AS IT DILATES. In it WE SEE…
As McCall sees it. With the detachment of a predatory
A series of frozen pictures flashing through McCall’s head –
mind calculating and evaluating a thousand details in a
PARTS OF THE ROOM FADE AWAY. THE UNIMPORTANT PARTS TO
MCCALL. Walls, doors, furniture, faces…
Leaving only what’s necessary to him: The glass edge of a
shelf. The DRAGON TATTOO covering the CAROTID on the man’s
neck, the handle of a KNIFE in the man’s waistband… the
throbbing heartbeat in the center of the second MAN’S
CHEST… The SHOT GLASS on the edge of a table… The
third man’s eye and the outline of a gun under his coat…
And the fork.
Weapons and targets disconnected from any sense of humanity.
The eye measuring the distance between the objects and the
time it will take him to kill everyone in the room.
This has all happened…
IN THE BLINK OF…
Holy crap. And this before anything has happened! This is the unspoken equivalent of ‘shit’s about to get real.’
How about a heartbreaking, character bonding moment?
Page 34 ****
McCall reaches out and the two shake. Only Teri doesn’t let
go. Childlike eyes watering a bit.
And there’s a moment where we understand – she knows. Not
because of any proof or certainty. She just knows… Raises
onto her toes, gives McCall a peck on the cheek.
Then she’s off.
Motionless. Watching her cross the street bright as a comet.
Whole life ahead of her.
When she disappears only then does McCall move.
Face reflecting a strange sense of peace. Eyes understanding
one less person in the world is hurting.
THAT HE DID THAT.
Picks up his bags and heads into his building. Finally
getting it. Finally understanding who he is…
The movie could actually end here as a pretty satisfying short! Something to think about when concluding ACT ONE in a feature.
There are so many gorgeously written scenes throughout the script and I think that is why I wasn’t super bothered by:
–the rape scene (actually this bothered me – it’s standard fare in the revenge genre – and wish Wenk had come up with another scenario worthy of McCall’s wrath)
–the Ralphie subplot didn’t resonate
–and therefore, neither did the corrupt police detectives
–Russian mobsters, a head villain named Vladimir Pushkin – it would skirt cartoonishness if it were less well written (the last good movie w/ Russian baddies was “Eastern Promises”)
–McCall miraculously escaping harm during the diner demolition. (This was fixed in the movie)
Like most movies in the genre, the 3rd act becomes a little tedious, but the ingenious ways to kill people in Home Depot made for entertaining reading.
I would’ve ended the script on page 104:
Walks off the stage and into the arms of a NICE LOOKING GUY.
The look on his face tells us everything we need to know
about her life now.
Eyes bright with pride. Drops a twenty on the table and
heads for the exit…
My favorite script in terms of sparse writing. Something I struggle with and aspire to create.