At this point, you know what you’re getting into when you sit down to watch a film in The Equalizer series. Denzel Washington (the character’s name is Robert McCall, but you won’t remember that) will find peace in a neighborhood full of kind, working class people. A group of criminals will harass, assault, and kill those kind people. Denzel Washington will, in return, kill those criminals.
This formula of revenge fulfillment has undergone many transformations over time, molded by filmmakers like Wes Craven, Clint Eastwood, and Quentin Tarantino. More recently, we’ve seen the rise of the “old man,” action-revenge movies. Keanu Reeves, Liam Neeson, and even Bob Odenkirk have carved out niches in this space.
With The Equalizer 3, Denzel Washington cements his status as one of the great old-man action stars (as if he wasn’t already). This time, Washington settles down in Altamonte, a small Italian town on the Amalfi Coast. After befriending the locals, he takes issue with the presence of the mafia; violence ensues.
The simplicity of The Equalizer 3 marks a return to form, after The Equalizer 2 got bogged down with lore-building and globe-trotting. What distinguishes this entry from its predecessors, however, is how damn pretty it is. By teaming with cinematographer Robert Richardson (known for the Kill Bill films, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Shutter Island, among others) and filming on location in Italy, director Antoine Fuqua crafted a visually stunning tale. Shots of the coastline, stained-glass windows, and church ceremonies look like they could’ve been pulled straight out of The Godfather.
Also striking is how Fuqua shoots his leading man. He treats Washington like a horror movie villain who stalks his prey from the darkness to the tune of hauntingly distorted music. There is a real sense of disgust as Washington cuts, shoots, and chokes his way through his victims. We feel conflicted about the brutal violence that Washington inflicts, just like his character does. This conflict never goes deeper than the surface, however, with Washington staring off into the distance before going right back to killing. Still, it adds an interesting wrinkle to the Equalizer formula.
Washington is, of course, as charismatic and terrifying as ever. He acts as a kind of Robin-Hood-meets-Kevin-McCallister figure (with a touch of the Jigsaw Killer sprinkled in for good effect). Dakota Fanning is serviceable and stern as a CIA agent investigating Washington, and the same goes for Andrea Scarduzio as the lead mafioso, who acts as a face to hate but nothing more.
The Equalizer films are really the Denzel show, and this entry understands that. It’s at its best when it keeps things simple and personal (most of the swift runtime). If this really is Washington’s last turn as the retired Marine and DIA agent, he is going out on top.