Ah, Italy. The word alone evokes images of smiling locals, sun-dappled hills and sumptuous ruins that echo with eternal splendor. It’s a country that draws in tourists from around the globe, from fellow Europeans who want a taste of bliss to Americans who want a slice of fun. In film, hitmen have been swept away by this country’s wonderful charms often, from The Godfather to The American to The Conformist. Now The Equalizer 3 (the final chapter in the action franchise) sees Denzel Washington’s vigilante attempt to trade gunshots for shots of espresso.
Robert McCall (Washington) is a virtuoso of violence who helps out those in need, hearing of injustices while driving for Lyft and taking care of them when no one else will. But after decades of grueling work–plus a couple bullets in the back–he decides to drop his Robin Hood career for a quiet life by the ocean. No more bloodshed. No more revenge. No more mobsters. He probably should have picked a region other than Naples for that, but then again, these movies solely exist for Washington to decimate villains in an exploitative fashion, and despite the set-up, this one is no exception.
In the first Equalizer installment, the notion of a two-time Oscar winner demolishing mercenaries made things interesting, and Washington brought his usual charisma to the role. He also brought humanity to a genre where people are carved-up instead of fleshed-out, as he does in this film’s particularly moving first act.
When McCall stumbles into a villa injured, he’s greeted by an elderly fellow who nurses him back to health. There, he discovers a new way of life centered around cafes, piazzas and long conversations with friends. He slowly starts to shed his gruff exterior, but his smile doesn’t last long.
Director Antione Fuqua (Training Day, Bullet Train, Legacy: The True Story of The Lakers) isn’t getting paid to film a travelog. Soon enough, we’re introduced to a gang of Neopolitan thugs who terrorize the town by setting stores on fire. Why are they burning such a beautiful village? Who knows. But it’s what sets McCall on his obligatory rampage, which builds to a predictable showdown with the cartel.
Along the way, he learns to work through his past and present emotions while engaging in many perfunctory shootouts and chases throughout Amalfi. The Equalizer 3‘s filmmaking employs rapid-fire editing instead of long, unvarnished takes, especially when McCall is forced to use his fists instead of his weapons. Which makes sense; Washington’s getting older and surely can’t do the stunts he used to. And the result is less coherent fight sequences.
The saving grace is Fuqua’s portrait of Italy, which glows with an ethereal warmth. You can tell he has a real fondness for these people, their culture, their joy and the cobblestone streets which they call home. The movie comes alive in ordinary scenes of people eating, talking, relaxing and lounging in town. No wonder McCall decided to retire here; if only he could have stayed retired longer.
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