Something interesting is happening with THE EQUALISER 3. I was expecting another "does what it says on the tin" vigilante film, along the lines of 1 and 2. But 3 has a confidence and a vibe that altogether surpasses its predecessors. It is so patient in doing the work to create its emotional climax that I wonder if it's even commercial.
The plot is simple enough and sounds like a standard Equaliser film. In the course of equalising a wrong in a Sicilian mafia cell, our protagonist Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) stumbles upon an operation to import ISIS-manufactured hard drugs, the sale of which is funding terrorist attacks in Europe. He calls the scheme in to CIA operative Emma Collins (Dakota Fanning) who brings in the Americans to investigate. Meanwhile, McCall recuperates in a beautiful small town terrorised by organised crime, and decides to equalise their wrongs.
What makes this film fascinating is the way in which the franchise's director, Antoine Fuqua, chooses to go about his business in this final instalment.
First of all, the style of violence is brutal but credible, and acknowledges McCall/Washington's age. The action sequences are skilful and suspenseful but does not require the superhuman anti-ageing of Tom Cruise in a MI film, or the CGI de-ageing of Harrison Ford in an Indiana Jones film. McCall's equalising is brutal and effective but always feels perfectly plausible for an older man.
Second, the pace is deliberately slow and the language probably over half in Italian, in a way that truly pays off in the final act. Fuqua really takes his time establishing McCall's rejuvenation in Altamonte's small town. The friendship with Dr Enzo, and the slow growth of trust between Robert and the townsfolk, are lightly essayed but deeply moving. The language never switches entirely to English. I would estimate that over half of the dialogue is in Italian, and I wonder if that choice will impact the film's commercial success. But I loved that choice, as it once again roots McCall in the life of Altamonte and roots us in the stakes of wresting it free of the Camorra.
The result is a film that has - as strange as it might sound - an elegance, a lightness of touch, but a real impact. This is enhanced by some truly beautiful cinematography and framing from Fuqua and cinematographer Robert Richardson, as well as the sparing inclusion of only two powerfully choreographed and compelling action sequences.
It's kind of strange that people don't seem to really talk about Fuqua or this franchise much. And yet with this instalment - that is so superior to its predecessors - I feel we need to reassess both. Why have they slipped under the radar? Is it because, like the film's protagonist, they are so quiet, unassuming and efficient that they don't call attention to itself? Let me know if you know.
THE EQUALISER 3 is rated R, has a running time of 109 minutes, and is on global release.