The Equalizer: Lessons on How To Remain Hidden & Anonymous

I recently watched the Hollywood movie “The Equalizer”, starring Denzel Washington. I’m a big fan of Denzel Washington movies. He seems to gravitate to a particular style of movie that I find interesting. I was captivated by his performance in “The Book of Eli” and there are many other honorable mentions, such as “Man on Fire”. Mr. Washington’s characters tend to promote a commanding on-screen impression that somehow normally balances with some humility and an appeal to the strife of the common man. For example, in “The Book of Eli”, the hero is a quiet, religious man who seems, at times, to have super powers as he dodges bullets and defeats multiple attackers – all while not having the ability to see in a post-apocalyptic world!

 Equalizer b and w

The Equalizer seems to carry forward the hero persona of some of Washington’s other movies, but in a more subtle form. *SPOILER ALERT!* Stop here if you intend to see the movie, but haven’t yet.  He plays the part of a seemingly-average Joe (Robert McCall), who works at a big box, home improvement store and whose life is routine and boring; walking to the grocery store, reading a book at the local diner each night, etc. What we later surmise as the plot unfolds is that Robert (D.Washington) has a secret past and that he’s been in hiding, living a secret identity for some time (We later find out that he has CIA friends and his death was faked, including a real funeral). Did he work for Army Intelligence, CIA, Special Forces, etc.? He has the ability to disarm gangsters and hurt bad guys without being touched – not to mention his ability to gather intelligence and data. Despite the weak plot of the movie, it was still fun to watch.

 equalizer fight

But what struck me after watching the movie were the gaps in his privacy and security plan. By that I mean if bad guys, private eyes and government agencies are looking for you, what is your plan for remaining anonymous and not being found? The reality is that in order to remain anonymous, you must take on a new identity, cut all ties with the past and stay under the radar – all of which requires serious planning and commitment.


Here are some of the more obvious mistakes Mr. Robert McCall (D.Washington) makes during the movie, violating his privacy and security plan:


1.       Hanging out at the same public place every night. Robert went to the same diner every night to read and have tea. I see this as a problem because it’s a public place where the wrong people may run into him. Second, staff and regular customers may become curious about who this “regular” is and start asking questions.

2.      Getting involved in other people’s lives. Robert makes friends with a prostitute at the diner he frequents and eventually takes her under his wing of protection. If he’d not gotten involved with her, and ultimately sought her out, he would have likely remained anonymous.

3.      Keeping a low profile. Wherever Robert went, he seemed to want to help people and talk to them about their problems. When his friend from work abruptly quits his job, Robert finds out that corrupt cops have been harassing his mom’s restaurant. He promptly takes the cops to task for their misdeeds. Later, this action helps the Russian Crime Syndicate put together who he is. This was all avoidable, if he’d just kept a low profile and not engaged the bad guys, trying to right a wrong (though it makes the movie far more fun and interesting to watch).

4.      Not changing and moving when you need to do so. At the end of the movie, after Robert has single-handedly toppled a Russian Crime Family, dispatched corrupt police officers and saved the day for everyone at the local home improvement store, he still lives at the same apartment he did at the beginning of the movie. He broke the biggest cardinal rule of anonymity: when your identity is exposed, you must move. In the real world, someone bigger and bad would be coming for retribution and he wouldn’t be safe. When his identity was exposed he should have picked up his “go bag” and walked away from his apartment, never to return.


There are many considerations for those who wish to start a new life and remain anonymous or operate under a new identity. In fact, many people don’t choose to start anew; they are forced to do so because of threats, fear and harassment. A new life requires serious planning and a powerful will to not go back to the old life. Don’t think it could ever happen to you? People are enrolled in the US Marshall’s Witness Security Program (Aka: Witness Protection Program) every year. Enrollees never planned on such a drastic life-style change, but did so to stay alive.   


Why this is important to know is that everyone should be prepared to walk away from their life with a moment’s notice. This is difficult to grasp for most of us law-abiding citizens. But bad things happen to good people every day and my advice is hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Government programs such as the Witness Security Program have limited budgets and only apply to the highest profile Federal cases. That leaves you to take care of yourself when needed.  Make a plan and hope you never need to activate it.

book of eli bnw

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