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Denzel Washington Battles The Camorra In The Badass ‘The Equalizer 3’ – Review

*This review was published during the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. At GoC, we fully support the creatives who are part of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.

For decades, Hollywood has Blind Side-d us with an onslaught of “white savior” movies. How can we forget Tom Cruise training the Imperial Japanese army in The Last Samurai? Or Kevin Costner ending bathroom segregation in Hidden Figures? What about that other Kevin Costner movie where he’s… like…dancing with wolves? So, as Denzel Washington punches, chokes, kicks, and manhandles a multitude of goons in The Equalizer 3, the trilogy subtly and earnestly solidifies the “Black savior” trope. Let me explain.

(Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Washington takes on mob ties in the final chapter of The Equalizer trilogy, reuniting with director Antoine Fuqua and fellow Man on Fire alum, Dakota Fanning. Washington’s character, Robert McCall, returns to track down money stolen by Italian gangsters. After his mission, McCall settles in a quiet village in southern Italy, befriending the locals and embracing the spectacular scenery. However, evil comes to knock on Robert’s door when a nearby mob family bullies the townspeople. In flipping cinema’s “white savior” trope on its head, Washington fights on behalf of helpless Italian folk against an oppressive mafia.

Following the criminally underrated The Equalizer 2, the final installment of the trilogy is more gruesome and brutal than any of its predecessors. Mr. Fuqua is unapologetic in his depiction of hand-to-hand combat, which emphasizes on the brute strength and agility that Washington brings to the role. But unlike other aging star-led action movies like John Wick, where Keanu Reeves’ Wick opts for a quick and efficient death, whereas, McCall axes his victims slowly and definitively. The slightly more realistic, grounded approach to the action balances intense fight choreography with room for remarkable acting choices. There are times when he’s slaughtering bad guys so viscously that you ask the same question McCall ponders – is he really a good guy?

To cope with the guilt of the dozens of people he’s disposed of over the years, McCall constantly puts himself in the line of fire for random strangers. From freeing Chloe Grace Moretz’s teenage sex worker character in the first film to finger-wagging Ashton Sanders into making good moral choices in the 2018 sequel, Robert McCall always finds a reason to justify his bloodlust. He finds one or two people he cares about and sacrifices his well-being on their behalf. This time, McCall doesn’t just find one person; he finds a whole village. He lends a voice to the voiceless in his small Sicilian neighborhood–a fundamental trope for our new “Black savior” genre. And by “a voice,” I mean hands; hands that are rated E for Everyone.

(Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

With the two previous US-based films portraying McCall as a neo-western sheriff protecting his patrons, The Equalizer 3 takes the action overseas. Antoine Fuqua clearly had a lot of fun making this movie, sprinkling in clever homages to The Godfather, Gomorrah, and several generations of Italian cinema legends. The Southern Italy scenic location is beautiful, framed eloquently by three-time Oscar winner Robert Richardson, the cinematographer behind Platoon, The Aviator, and Inglourious Basterds. Richardson’s eye for gorgeous overhead lighting shines in a visually striking opening sequence and continues throughout the rest of the film. The white mountainside buildings glisten with brightness and tranquillity that radiates throughout the village during the day. And at night, when the criminal underworld gets to work, the dreary shadow of the mafia looms over the small town.

Some wonder why Washington made McCall his career-defining legacy role rather than commissioning sequels to films like Devil in the Blue Dress or The Book of Eli. Although those stories could easily garner an intriguing follow-up, McCall’s characterization in The Equalizer is more detailed and layered than you’d probably expect. During the more harrowing interrogation-style scenes, Washington cooks his beefy monologues to a perfect medium steak. But it’s the calm, quieter, moments that McCall’s charisma shines. For a killer who prides himself on timing and precision, it makes sense that McCall presents many OCD traits daily. While those traits were visible before, we haven’t seen Robert McCall as comfortable as he is here.

Watching a reformed government assassin find solace in a little Sicilian world is refreshing, especially during his interactions with elderly doctor Enzo, played by character actor Remo Girone. (Sidenote: even though the film touches on age and masculinity, I’m so glad they don’t harp on it the whole time like Indiana Jones 5 or the Daniel Craig 007 movies). Other well-known Italian actors are featured prominently in this movie, including Gaia Scodellaro, playing Denzel’s romantic interest Aminah; Eugenio Mastrandrea, playing the local chief of police Giorgio; and Andrea Scarduzio and Andrea Dodero, playing Vincent and Marco Quaranta, respectively. All the Italian cast was excellent, with the biggest standouts being Girone and Mastrandrea. 

(Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Much anticipation came from the casting of Fanning, who reunites with Washington after co-starring in Tony Scott’s beloved 2004 film Man on Fire. Their reunion is a little extra poetic considering that this film marks director Antoine Fuqua’s fifth collaboration with Denzel Washington–tying the number of movies that the late great Scott did with the Unstoppable actor.

As for Dakota’s CIA operative in this film, she was fine. Fanning was serviceable for her role, but her character spends most of the movie playing catch-up to McCall’s Batman-level detective work. Compared to Washington and Pascal’s square off in a masterclass of whisper-acting during Equalizer 2, the new film doesn’t exhibit the same gravitas with this duo. Without any big overarching conspiracies in play, the plot of The Equalizer 3 is a much simpler good guys vs. bad guys story.

In the end, The Equalizer 3 is a throwback action movie that doesn’t pull punches, concluding a trilogy that adds to the Black cinematic landscape. The movie is bloody and never boring, the featuring dazzling oceanfront locations, textured cinematography, and a heartwarming message about finding community. If you’re like me and enjoy the Equalizer movies because you love a timeless Denzel Washington performance, you won’t be disappointed with this third installment.

Rating: 7/10

The Equalizer 3 is now playing in theaters.

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