Friday, 14 June 2024

‘Equalizer 3’ marks a triumphal end for vigilante hero



‘THE EQUALIZER 3’ RATED R

The one thing to know about “The Equalizer” franchise is that Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall is a retired government assassin who struggles with his past and seeks redemption as an avenging angel to provide justice on behalf of the oppressed.

“The Equalizer 3” opens with a bang, or more accurately the aftermath of a massacre of mobsters at a Sicilian winery, and the carnage of dead bodies is a bloody scene, including the gruesome shot of one with a hatchet planted smack in his forehead.

The winery is a front for a smuggling operation of dangerous drugs from Syria where the export from Italy of illicit contraband apparently goes undetected by the authorities.

Two gangsters show up with a child who remains in the Jeep (one can’t start too young in the mafia family business). After surveying the damage, the mafiosos end up in a cellar where McCall is being held at gunpoint.

Has our former CIA agent/assassin come an ignominious end? You can probably guess the outcome from the trailer alone, when McCall tells his captors they have nine seconds to decide their fate.

A righteous vigilante, however, may not always escape unscathed, and in this case, McCall is shot in the back and turns up being treated at a doctor’s home in a picturesque village on the Amalfi coast.

When the doctor asks McCall “Are you a good man or a bad man?,” and the answer is “I don’t know,” it may be an admission that the assassin is conflicted that his life of violence may not have been the absolute right path.

The story takes a slower pace for a time while a now vulnerable McCall recovers and forges a friendship with the doctor, Enzo (Remo Girone), and gradually immerses himself in the laid-back lifestyle of Southern Italy.

Unfortunately, not everything is peaceful in the town of Altomonte (not to be confused with the real city of the same name in the province of Cosenza). The first sign of trouble is when a fish seller is beaten for not keeping up with protection payments.

As McCall gets back on his feet with the help of a cane, he starts to enjoy the local culture. A favorite spot is a café run by Aminah (Gaia Scodellaro), who is puzzled by the American’s affinity for tea.

Aminah tells our favorite tough guy that tea is for old ladies and Englishmen, prompting him to eventually enjoy an espresso or cappuccino, or whatever is the local custom.

While McCall settles into life in the tranquil coastal village, he decides to go by the name of Roberto and becomes friendly with the townsfolk, and soon enough he takes a visceral dislike to the local mafia known as the Camorra.

The criminal element, run by brothers Vincent (Andrea Scarduzio) and Marco (Andrea Dodero) with a vicious streak that renders them easy targets for McCall’s retribution, seek to decimate the town to further their dream of building a casino, among other enterprises.

Having been rescued from the shooting by kind police officer Gio Bonucci (Eugenio Mastrandrea), a loving family man not in the pocket of the gangsters, McCall takes note of the brave policeman’s refusal to be threatened by the Camorra.

One night while having dinner at a local restaurant, McCall watches thugs harassing Gio in the presence of his wife and young daughter. At this point, McCall’s solemn gaze draws attention from the volatile Vincent.

McCall has grown fond of the locals, befriending merchants and citizens, and even a priest. As a result, he puts the cynical, sneering Vincent on notice by a most painful grip of his hand that extortion and intimidation of his friends won’t be tolerated.

A deadly beatdown of the mafia goons is inevitable, but a side plot emerges when McCall anonymously connects with CIA agent Emma Collins (Dakota Fanning) and enlists her help to deal with the broader conspiracy of the mafia’s criminal enterprise.

Even as he had become welcomed by the citizenry of Altomonte, McCall remains a mysterious figure who resorts to brutal violence against the mafia in the shadows and mostly out of the public eye.

The villains are so irredeemably vicious and cruel that the vigilante spirit captures an audience lusting for revenge that McCall dishes out with no reservation and no apology.

“The Equalizer 3” is billed as the third and final chapter of the franchise, and there’s no doubt that Denzel Washington has entered into the Liam Neeson realm of aging action figures who still pack a powerful punch.

The series may verge on the grindhouse territory favored by Quentin Tarantino, as director Antoine Fuqua has demonstrated a penchant for gritty crime thrillers, most notably in “Training Day,” one of his earliest films.

What makes “The Equalizer 3” rise, in large measure, above a routine thriller with plenty of gore and mayhem is that Washington’s charisma, toughness and earnest demeanor prove a winning combination.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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