When we first met Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) back in 2014, we hardly knew anything about him. We knew he had OCD. We knew his wife was dead. And we knew he had a very specific set of skills he was trying to keep buried. Sadly, when your life is built around using said skills for so long, it’s hard not to use them to fix a situation. So he went about putting all the wrongs right for his friends. In turn, it awakened his long-buried skills and the desire for justice, putting him above the law, according to himself.
Jump forward four years to The Equalizer 2, and McCall’s one true friend, Susan Collins, has been murdered. Once again, he uses his skills to bring justice to an unjust murder. To do so, he needed to come back from being “dead”. This opens up a whole world of issues McCall needs to process to stay focused on the job. From here, we learn a little more about who he is and why he does the things he does and does well. His background working with the US special forces, his wife and the simple and happy life he once had.
It’s been almost ten years since McCall first graced our screens. And nothing has changed. His OCD habits are still part of his day-to-day life; he still mourns the loss of his wife, though perhaps not so much mourning than loving thoughts. And he still finds it hard not to help the innocent, which brings us to the Amalfi Coast, Italy.
McCall is still a Lyft driver, and one of his clients happened to have lost all his life savings to a web scam. Having tracked them down, McCall walks into a situation in an Italian winery he wasn’t fully prepared for. This opened him to one of the world’s biggest organisations in crime, drug smuggling and money laundering. The idea of getting back some money from a scammer probably sounded like an easy job. He’s older, maybe slower and certainly tired. But still sharp. But when he lets his guard down with a frightened child, he finds himself shot in the back.
Trying to make his way home unsuccessfully, he finds himself in the care of a local Dr who insists if anyone asks, “he fell”. He also asks an important question: Is he a good or bad man? To which McCall replied he didn’t know. That was when the doctor knew he was a good man and helped him recover.
Coming to find and understand peace, McCall falls in love with this happy and peaceful town near Naples in Southern Italy. The mafia have a strong hold on this town and have done so for some time. But when they want to ramp up their operation, they put unjust pressure on the community. Witnessing this makes it hard for McCall not to intervene and only makes matters worse for himself and the town.
This is all happening as the CIA is investigating exactly who and why the drugs are being imported through the winery McCall raided. With some guidance from McCall, he’s able to put new-to-the-field Agent Emma Collins on the right path.
Playing the skilled assassin is something Washington has been able to do seemingly better than others before him. You’ve got Tom Cruise in his Mission Impossible films, John Krasinski in the Jack Ryan series and even Liam Neeson in everything he’s done since Love Actually. But what Washington manages to do is bring depth to his character. He makes it seem like there is a whole life before this moment that has led him here. His mannerisms, aside from the ocd, are effortless and don’t seem forced, like the sucking in of the side of his lip. The way he interacts with the people he cares about has a connection other than protecting them. Whereas this type of action generally tends to hold less drama and not build depth, Washington makes it work.
Director Antoine Fuqua has also grown with the trilogy. You can see he’s having some fun with this, as there is a great deal more humour for the final instalment. There always has been, but it feels like he told Washington to push a little further from the eyeballing across the room to the corny smiles. It’s certainly a lot lighter than its predecessors. The action itself is as you have come to expect. Since its original release, audiences have become accustomed to a great deal more gore. The Equalizer 3 delivers on that front with the stabbings, use of corkscrews and the many, many ways someone can be shot.
Denzel has said this will be the last time he plays McCall. The aging of his character and rounding it out nicely with Agent Collins, the daughter of his murdered friend, is a nice send-off. There’s a moment when he finishes the job, and the fireworks go off, making it edge on the side of cheese.