‘The Equalizer 3’ movie review: Denzel Washington slices up the Italian mafia

Robert McCall makes things right in Italy by single-handedly taking down an entire mafia organization in The Equalizer 3, which opens in Prague and cinemas worldwide this weekend. Bolstered by Denzel Washington‘s hauntingly charismatic lead turn, some stark cinematography and set design, and a terrific synth-horror soundtrack, this one delivers the ultra-violent revenge movie goods.

Director Antoine Fuqua‘s first Equalizer was a more traditional revenge movie that ended with Washington’s retired CIA agent turning MacGuyver as he hunted baddies in a Home Depot. The Equalizer 2 was a more thoughtful, if slowly-paced sequel that still packed a punch with its taut climax set on the shores of Massachusetts during a raging storm, which remains the action highlight of the series.

The Equalizer 3 doubles-down on the serious tone of the previous film, but loses a little nuance with a one-note portrayal of its antagonists. Washington’s do-gooder McCall has relocated to Italy, for reasons not entirely clear until the finale, and now he’s going up against the real-life Camorra mafia organization in Campania.

In The Equalizer 3‘s opening sequence, we see the aftermath of McCall’s latest intervention. As a Camorra head (Bruno Bilotta) leaves his grandson in the car and slowly makes his way through the bodies at a Sicilian winery, the camera lingers on the brutality of what transpired. By the time he has traversed this Hell to reach McCall, held at gunpoint by one of his enforcers, his fate has been sealed.

The McCall we see here is no longer the benevolent do-gooder looking to make things right in the world, even if that means stacking up a few bodies along the way. He’s now an angel of vengeance who seems to get more satisfaction in the violence he dishes out than the good it may (or may not) bring, and now bears a closer resemblance to Man on Fire‘s Creasy than the character from the first two films.

Director Fuqua is keenly aware of this, and the cinematography in The Equalizer 3 (by the great Robert Richardson) is filled with high-contrast inky-blacks that underscore the hole in his lead character’s heart. Marcelo Zarvos’ moody soundtrack, which could have lifted from a horror film, underscores the brutal actions not only of the film’s villains, but also its protagonist.

The majority of The Equalizer 3 is set in the fictional village of Altamonte (the film shot in Atrani on the Amalfi Coast), where McCall recovers from injuries suffered in Sicily job with the aid of kindly doctor Enzo (Remo Girone). The locale is carved out of the surrounding mountains, and covered in shadows; only a church at the top of the mountain is graced by sunlight.

Called ‘Roberto’ by the locals, McCall is embraced by this small community, which also features a well-meaning Carabinieri (Eugenio Mastrandrea), a friendly fisherman (Daniele Perrone), and a hospitable barista (Gaia Scodellaro). But as he witnesses the Camorra, represented by brothers Vincent (Andrea Scarduzio) and Marco (Andrea Dodero), target these kind citizens with violence, he realizes he has one last job ahead of him.

A protracted subplot featuring CIA agents (Dakota Fanning and David Denman) chasing down mafia drug dealers, meanwhile, tends to get in the way of what should be the primary focus. Still, it’s nice to see Washington reunited with his Man on Fire co-star Fanning after two decades.

We’re rooting for McCall to slice up these mafia characters, and there’s certainly some level of satisfaction in seeing these ruthless fiends get what’s coming to them (in Vincent’s introductory scene, he’s responsible for shoving an elderly man in a wheelchair out of a window). But there’s less nuance here than in The Equalizer 2, which gave its villains a meatier backstory and questioned the satisfaction we should be taking in their brutal demise.

Still, The Equalizer 3‘s slasher film finale, which includes a bit of shocking horror that may have been edited to avoid getting too graphic, is satisfying stuff. As the protracted events play out in the streets of Naples, the screen is drenched in inky film noir bleakness, and by the end, McCall has finally found his home in the shadows.

Billed as the final film in the series The Equalizer 3 at least meets the bar set by the original two films, and might even exceed it. While the narrative doesn’t reinvent the revenge movie, the quality of this production throughout a beautiful-but-mysterious backdrop on the Amalfi Coast is first-rate.

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