Monday, March 4, 2024

Movie Review: ‘The Equalizer 3’ Balances Violence and Beauty

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writers: Richard Wenk, Michael Sloan, and Richard Lindheim
Stars: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Eugenio Mastrandrea

Synopsis: Robert McCall finds himself at home in Southern Italy but he discovers his 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.

Sadly, I’ve never been a fan of The Equalizer franchise, whether film or television. There are certainly worse ways to spend your time at the movies. After all, you have a legendary megastar in Denzel Washington. It’s a story tailor-made for mass audiences, centered around a virtuous character who stands up for those in need. You also have a director with a solid connection to its star, who entertains with some nifty camerawork and excellent hand-to-hand combat scenes. However, the series’ third installment benefits from a fish-out-of-water story and the gravitas of its star, eventually making The Equalizer 3 the most entertaining entry.

The story continues to follow Washington’s Robert McCall, who allows himself to be captured inside a fine Italian winery by a few bad guys. That’s the plan, you see, as he wants the owner, who is using the establishment as a front, to be close enough to see the whites of his target’s eyes. The former Marine and officer for the DIA is an expert in spotting and exploiting human weakness. As he does with the two armed men, with one standing too close, he equalizes them.

That’s until he leaves, and some little brat shoots him in the back with a rifle. Knowing what would happen to him if he’s caught at the compound, he tries to put a bullet in his head, but he’s out of ammunition. Robert manages to drive far enough until a local cop named Gio (From Scratch’s Italian heartthrob Eugenio Mastrandrea) finds him passed out in his car and delivers him to a local seaside town physician (Remo Girone). While being nursed back to health, Robert now takes a shine to the town and the people but discovers that the local Gomorrah is muscling their way into the area and forcing them to give up their land so it can be developed into a commercial property.

This is reportedly the final Equalizer installment (and I’ll believe that when I see it), and Antoine Fuqua sends the franchise out on a high note. The opening sequence is engaging and very exciting, if not a bit too brutal. Not just the actions but also how Washington draws in the viewer with his calm and stoic chess-like maneuvers. McCall has always been a thinking man’s action star, never panicking because he relies on his excellent training and can spot the ones who lack training or have holes in their protocol.

A lot has been made about The Equalizer 3 being an unofficial sequel to Man on Fire, with Dakota Fanning taking on the role of Emma, a CIA operative with connections to Robert, but she doesn’t know it. It’s nice to see them on screen together again, and Fanning more than holds her own in scenes with the Hollywood icon. She has a particular nostalgia factor that works. However, it’s a fairly standard role with a nice little payoff.

While the film is known for its cathartic action and combines a certain dark humor, what makes The Equalizer 3 work is the sense of community and acceptance, which was missing in the first two films. Instead of Washington’s Robert looking out for those being bullied, we get to know the ones he’s helping immensely more than in the other films. The viewer can experience the culture, relaxation, history, food (even the gifting of a lemon, a typical area gesture, which is a nice touch), and beauty of the locale.

This obviously isn’t Il Postino, Cinema Paradiso, or Big Night. Still, that touch makes a difference where the viewer can care about the outcome, not just for the ones that need protecting but also for the main character. It’s that “rooting” factor, often dismissed and hard to create, that Fuqua and writer Richard Wenk manage to accomplish here. The Equalizer 3 is a bit formulaic, even manipulative, but the action scenes work, and most importantly, the meaning and message behind them ring true. It’s the best installment of the series, giving the viewer a visceral and poignant kick to send off the franchise in style.

Grade: B-

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