In a cinematic universe where an actor’s trajectory can resemble the laws of physics, Denzel Washington’s role in the latest installment of the big-screen Equalizer reboot appears as a counterpoint to his recent portrayal of Lord Macbeth for Joel Coen. While his portrayal of Macbeth showcased frailty and introspection, Washington’s performance in the third Equalizer film represents a distinct contrast. As Robert McCall, the former marine and covert operative who now cleans up the streets in his retirement, Washington defies the notion that age must erode a man’s capabilities. Despite bearing the weight of pre-geriatric regrets, he emerges victorious, turning his capacity for violence into heroic action rather than tragic downfall.
Washington’s McCall, boasting superhuman physical prowess that enables him to outmatch foes a third of his age, projects an air of invincibility. His tactical prowess creates an illusion of all-knowingness, and his rapport with a decades-younger cafe waitress adds to his charismatic aura. Age is merely a number, dwarfed by his staggering body count. While McCall grapples with the aftereffects of an injury, hobbling with a cane in some scenes, the film flirts with the anxiety of aging. Yet, the movie’s delusion of overpowering obsolescence retaliates with a barrage of gunfire.
Director Antoine Fuqua seeks a hint of Shakespearean gravitas from Washington, who masterfully portrays McCall’s basic essence: a man who commits questionable deeds for righteous motives, grappling with guilt after each act. McCall’s nuanced relationship with violence juxtaposes with the film’s unapologetic embrace of it. The trilogy’s final entry differentiates itself with an insatiable thirst for carnage, oscillating between thrilling excitement and unsettling brutality. Fuqua and cinematographer Robert Richardson unflinchingly present gore, positioning the camera to capture ruptured arteries and knives embedded in faces. One gruesome moment stands out: McCall gouges an enemy’s eyeball, inserts a gun barrel, and executes another assailant through the skull.
Fear not; they’re all mafia members. After a botched mission, McCall arrives in a picturesque seaside town along the Sicilian shore. Determined to rid the area of organized criminals making way for developers, he champions this charming village. Its residents exude the idyllic purity of characters from Cinema Paradiso. The film portrays an American perspective of Italian country life, complete with hat salesmen, amiable fishmongers, and religious parades. A thousand-year-old hilltop church becomes a metaphor for perseverance and progress. The imagery introduces Catholic iconography that culminates in a climax pondering sin, ultimately adopting a resigned stance on the matter.
McCall forms an alliance with a CIA rookie (Dakota Fanning, whose chemistry with Washington remains strong since Man on Fire in 2004). Amidst moments of boneheadedness, McCall’s ethos prevails, prioritizing neatness and manners over the brashness of the younger generation. While he dispenses brutality, his old-fashioned values triumph over the improprieties of the youth, imparting a lesson with his skilled, strangling hands.
Amidst his formidable glares, Washington injects moments of levity with well-timed quips. His Sony-subsidized European sojourn doubles as adept PR, positioning him as a seasoned movie star even within a forgettable plot. Like McCall, he wields his arsenal of withering stares and knowing smiles, nearly eclipsing all else.