Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer 3 brings Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall back one last time for what is reportedly the final part of one of Hollywood’s unlikeliest trilogies. I say unlikely, as when CBS premiered their rebooted television show with Queen Latifah in a gender swapped version of McCall, I assumed that it would put an end to the cinematic version.
Luckily this wasn’t the case, with Washington getting a chance to bow out in style, with him and Fuqua creating the visceral carnage of which the series excels at. Although it doesn’t exactly match the delights of the first two entries, this is still quality filmmaking and a rank above some of the supposed “blockbusters” coming out of Hollywood recently.
The story begins with the aftermath of a brutal massacre at a secluded winery in Sicily owned by crime boss Lorenzo Vitale (Bruno Bilotta). As Lorenzo travels through the main house he sees countless dead bodies, suggesting an army has been there. Instead he is greeted by one man, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington). Seemingly trapped by what is left of Vitale’s henchman, McCall quickly dispatches them and Vitale. Unexpectedly McCall finds himself shot in the back by Vitale’s young son, who he proceeds to let go.
Seriously injured, McCall decides to travel back to the mainland, with him reaching the Amalfi coast before passing out due to his injury. Thankfully he is found by local policeman Gio (Eugenio Mastrandrea) who takes him to local doctor Enzo (Remo Girone) to remove the bullet. Both Gio and Enzo agree to keep how they found McCall a secret. As McCall slowly recuperates in the small town of Altamonte he starts to get a sense of peace, with McCall beginning to integrate himself into the town and its people.
As perfect as life appears to be, the town is terrorized by the local Mafia, The Camorra. Led by Vincent Quaranta (Andrea Scarduzio), they proceed to intimidate and murder anyone not willing to bend to their will. At first McCall tries to stay out of trouble but he can only turn a blind eye for so long, with him eventually taking the fight to Vincent.
At the same time, after being contacted by McCall, rookie C.I.A. agent Emma (Dakota Fanning) starts to look into links between The Camorra and local terrorist activity, with it appearing they are involved in several bombings. This brings her into contact with McCall who she is slightly apprehensive about but might just be the only person she can trust.
We should be thankful of directors like Antoine Fuqua, with them unafraid to tell a straightforward story in an unpretentious way, similar to cinema greats like Don Siegel or Walter Hill. Sure, the film is beautifully shot but Fuqua never allows his style to overshadow the story being told on screen.
The Equalizer 3 marks the fifth collaboration between Fuqua and Washington, with the amount of films equaling Washington’s previous partnership with Tony Scott. Like those films, some are certainly better than others, but each of them have their own value.
Fuqua has given a much tighter film this time round, with the third entry roughly clocking in at just over 100 minutes, 20 minutes shy of the previous two films. Like the previous entries, it’s not a full blown non-stop actioner, with Fuqua taking his time to let the plot develop. After the aftermath of the gory opening, it’s some time before we get a chance to see McCall once again unleash his vengeance.
In that time Fuqua allows us to get to know the setting and the characters that inhabit it, with it seeming that this is finally a place that McCall could find some peace in. Of course we know that this won’t be the case, with it only a matter of time until he has to go back to his old ways.
When the action does come, it’s fast, brutal and effective. This is probably the most violent the series has ever gone, with it being almost gratuitous in how gleefully Fuqua revels in the blood and gore (this is not a complaint). Certain parts of the film are more reminiscent of a horror film than an action thriller, this is especially the case when you have Washington’s McCall silently taking out his opponents like a more skilled version of Jason Vorhees.
The slower quieter moments during the first third of the film may disappoint those simply hampering for gruesome action, but I appreciated the film’s attempts to introduce characters that we could actually care about, so when McCall does finally turn to violence that it is understandable why he does so.
Deciding to shoot the film in Italy certainly helps set this entry apart from its predecessors, with the beautiful Amalfi Coast being almost a character in itself. You can understand why someone would fight to save a location like this.
The setting also made the film extremely reminiscent of the Italian Poliziotteschi films from the 70’s, with those films being filled with the Mafia, corrupt cops and even more corrupt politicians. Obviously The Equalizer 3 has much better resources at its disposal meaning that it’s a much classier affair than those grimy thrillers of days gone by.
The one issue I feel that all the Equalizer films have in common is their lacklustre villains, and part 3 is sadly no different. This isn’t anything to do with the actor that plays them, as both Martin Csokas and Pedro Pascal who portrayed the main villains in part 1 and 2 are terrific actors, but they never seemed to pose a real threat to McCall, with him taking them out with considerable ease. Similarly, Andrea Scarduzio’s Vincent never once seems to be a significant opponent, no matter how many evil acts he carries out during the film.
Still, this is a minor issue, and the villains are still evil enough that you will be glad when they are dealt with, which Washington’s McCall does in a number of inventive ways. Shoving the barrel of a gun through someone’s eye socket to only then use what remains of their head as a silencer is only one of many gruesome delights we are treated to during the film.
The only other small drawback I could levy at the film is that the finale pales in comparison to the previous films, being slightly anti-climactic. I was actually surprised when this turned out to be the film’s final action scene. Fuqua does a fine job of lensing the action but it never reaches the heights of the excellent action finale of the first film, where McCall took out a group of mercenaries in the hardware store he has been working at, utilizing any tool that came to hand to take out his opponents.
As expected Washington is terrific in the lead role, able to convey so much with just a look that many actors would need a screed of dialogue to get over. The opening scene when he is shot in the back is a perfect example of this, with a plethora of emotions crossing over his face all in the pace of a minute.
Washington has made sure to make this take on McCall his own, with his serious case of OCD once again being on full display. Everything McCall does has a sense of provision to it, either when killing someone or simply making a cup of tea. Everything has to be precise.
Additionally, there is a higher level of brutality to the character than we have seen in the past. While he has always used violence as a means to an end, in some scenes it’s almost like he is enjoying it, with him staring characters square in the eye as life slowly leaves their body. At the same time it’s clear this violence has taken a toll on him, with him even commenting at one point he’s not sure if he’s a good man or not.
Unsurprisingly, Washington is still able to make McCall appear human, especially in comparison to the criminals he goes up against. His take on McCall may be far removed from the role Edward Woodward originated, but both still have a dedication of standing up for injustice.
The Equalizer 3 also works someway in being a Man on Fire (2004) reunion, bringing together Washington and Dakota Fanning for the first time since Tony Scott’s classic thriller. Like that film, they continue to share great chemistry and the only real drawback from Fanning’s role is that it doesn’t allow her to share more screen time with Washington.
The remainder of the cast all do well in their smaller roles. Remo Girone as Enzo comes off especially well, with him fast becoming close to McCall after nursing him back to health. There are also hints at romance for McCall, with the lovely Gaia Scodellaro’s Aminah clearly taking an interest in the mysterious American, although this element of the plot is underplayed.
As mentioned, the villains are the least memorable part of the film. Andrea Scarduzio as Vincent does well enough in a limited role, but he never brings the terror and villainy a part like this needs. Also, for being the head of a criminal organization, he isn’t shown to be particularly intelligent. At one point he and his men venture into town to kill McCall. When their plans don’t come to fruition he later says to his men “we need to find out who this American is”. Perhaps it would be best practice to do this beforehand.
Marcelo Zarvos contributes a well suited score to the on screen action, proving to be a fine replacement for the departing Harry Gregson-Williams. This continues Zarvos association with Fuqua, with him having composed his earlier films Brooklyn Finest (2009), The Guilty (2021) and Emancipation (2022).
Zarvos keeps things calm during the quieter moments before ramping up the intensity with electric guitars when the violence erupts. My only gripe with the score is the same issue I had with Gregson-Williams’ score in the previous film. Not once do they ever use Stewart Copeland’s iconic theme from the television show. Just once would have been nice.
If this is to be Robert McCall’s swansong, he has certainly left on a high note. Fuqua and Washington have created a well paced thriller whose quieter moments are as worthwhile as its action scenes. While this may be the last outing for Washington’s McCall, I hope it’s not the last collaboration between him and Fuqua.
Plot: 3.5/5 Acting: 4/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 3.6/5