Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, David Denman, Sonia Ammar
Runtime: 1 hr 45 mins
Rating: NC16 (Violence)
Released By: Sony Pictures
Opening Day: 31 August 2023
Synopsis: Since giving up his life as a government assassin, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) has struggled to reconcile the horrific things he’s done in the past and finds a strange solace in serving justice on behalf of the oppressed. Finding himself surprisingly at home in Southern Italy, he discovers his new friends are under the control of local crime bosses. As events turn deadly, McCall knows what he has to do: become his friends’ protector by taking on the mafia.
Unlike ‘Taken’, which squandered its franchise opportunity with two hastily and poorly done sequels, ‘The Equalizer’ has taken its time over the course of almost a decade to get to the inevitable trilogy, and in doing so, remain consistently and reliably watchable. Indeed, both Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills in the former and Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall in the latter are men with a very particular set of skills, but ‘The Equalizer’ has proven with its 2018 sequel and this latest that it is the superior vigilante action film with an aged action hero.
It should come as no surprise that Washington is the very raison d'etre of ‘The Equalizer’ trilogy. Whilst critics embrace his thespian performances in dramas such as ‘Flight’, ‘Fences’ and ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq’, it is his action hero shtick in the late Tony Scott’s ‘Man on Fire’, ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’ and ‘Unstoppable’ and in director Antoine Fuqua’s ‘Training Day’ and ‘The Magnificent Seven’ that audiences have lapped up. As McCall in ‘The Equalizer’ films, all of which have been directed by Fuqua, Washington is peerless smoldering, swaggering and lighting up the screen as a deliverer of slick justice.
To their credit though, Fuqua and series writer Richard Wenk do not just take this latest (and possibly last) film as just another rehash of the earlier two. As much as the opening scene at an Italian vineyard strewn with bodies, knives and bullet wounds remind us of how ruthless efficient he is, it also ends with McCall getting shot in the back by a child he thought was innocuous, which he takes a moment to absorb lying on the grass. McCall does manage to make it into a car, drive onto a ferry, and steer his way up a mountain road en route to a fictional seaside town of Alamonte along the Amalfi Coast.
Most of the action takes place in that picturesque setting, where McCall is nursed back to health by a kindly elderly doctor Enzo (Remo Girone) at his home, after being brought there by a kindly carbinieri (Eugenio Mastrandrea). Pretty soon, the rest of the community also grows on McCall, including the barista (Gaia Scodellaro) at the café in the village square he goes to every morning, the fishmonger that initially refuses payment on account of being Enzo’s friend, and even the priest at the church on the hill he takes daily climbs up to in order to regain his stamina.
If it was purpose he was after in the earlier two films, it is peace that he longs for here – and it is precisely that peace he steps in to safeguard fiercely for the community when their lives are disrupted by the Italian mafia (specifically, the Camorra). Besides extortion, the mafia are also forcing people out of their homes in a bid to redevelop the real estate into hotels and casinos. After holding himself back when they set fire to the fishmonger’s store, McCall gets back to what he does best when he sees them openly threatening the policeman and his family in a restaurant.
From squeezing a median nerve, to turning a knife against its very aggressor, and to driving a corkscrew up into a baddie’s mouth, Washington’s savage, untroubled dispatching of the Camorra is an utter guilty pleasure. An absolute pro at pushing our buttons, Washington has perfected his trademark gestures – the smirk, pursed lips, and occasional sardonic aside – that make his kills as much for justice as they are for sheer entertainment. None of the sequences rival the showdown in the first movie at a home supplies depot, but watching Washington do what he does never loses its cathartic joy.
Like we said at the start, ‘The Equalizer’ trilogy exists because of Washington. He is its force of nature, whose ferocity is nicely balanced with charisma, grace and equanimity. Though he is obviously better than the material, Washington remains a consummate movie star through and through, never phoning it in even if he could easily do so. Those who remember his ‘Man on Fire’ will also be in for a treat – close to 20 years later, his reunion with Dakota Fanning, who plays a CIA desk clerk turned junior operative whom McCall strikes an unlikely partnership with, is surprisingly delightful thanks to their easy chemistry. If this is indeed the end of the road for ‘The Equalizer’, it is a satisfying conclusion that ends the franchise on a pulpy high note.
(Smoldering, swaggering and lighting up the screen as a deliverer of slick justice, Denzel Washington proves once again why he is 'The Equalizer' par none)
Review by Gabriel Chong