‘The Equalizer 3’ Review
When turning the other cheek just won’t get the job done.
IN THE FIRST TWO Equalizer films, former Army-operative-turned-CIA-something-or-other Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is frequently seen in the company of a book.
In the first, he’s working the way through 100 books you have to read before you die; that two of the named titles are The Old Man and the Sea and Don Quixote—a pair of novels at least in part about the previous generation trying to find their place in a world they don’t quite recognize as their own—is not coincidental. In the sequel, McCall is working his way through Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and Richard Wright’s Native Son, tomes that echo the life lessons McCall is trying to impart to a wayward youth at risk of falling in with a local gang.
In The Equalizer 3 there is just one book. The Book. The Bible. It rests in a drawer in the guest room of the Italian town in which McCall is convalescing, healing from a bullet wound suffered at the hands of a child he chose not to kill. The Equalizer 3 is suffused with religious symbolism: When members of the Camorra rough up a shopkeeper who has failed to make his protection payment, Robert looks at a cross on a hill, willing himself to turn the other cheek and seeing just how little that gets him; at film’s end, a stained-glass depiction of the vengeful Archangel Michael comes crashing down on the wicked man who has earned Robert’s wrath.
Back to that Bible, though. Next to The Book he has placed his watch, another mainstay from the first two films: It is with this watch that he times his kills, mapping his focused fury in his mind’s eye and guesstimating how long it will take to accomplish. When the time comes to set aside his hope for peace and resume the life he knows, he takes the watch from the drawer and we wonder: Has the good book rubbed off on this timepiece of death? Or has the watch been sanctified, made holy, rendered armor for a Crusade?
DIRECTOR ANTOINE FUQUA has long been deeply interested in the morality of violence; it isn’t every day a director chooses to close a pulpy war movie like Tears of the Sun with the admonition attributed to Edmund Burke about evil triumphing only when good men do nothing. Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven is much in the same vein, serving as an extended reminder that one’s rights—to property, to life itself—are only as good as the firearms one has to protect them. And the first two Equalizer pictures placed Washington’s McCall firmly into the role of Neighborhood Dad, alternating scenes of violence with scenes in which he imparted life lessons to wayward youths.
In this threequel, Washington infuses McCall with more than a little of his recent turn as Macbeth for Joel Coen. At one point very early on, McCall sits in a chair, surrounded by bodies, the light diffused by dust swirling about, a crown of light on his head. He’s practically muttering to himself, a mad king. The violence in these movies has always been pretty striking—the R rating never in doubt for any of them—but Fuqua amps it up a notch in this entry. Not just in terms of the gore, though I’ll admit I’ve never seen someone jam a gun through an eye socket and unload a clip into a villain through his henchman’s skull.
No, what I mean more is the tone of the violence, which has markedly shifted. The first film builds to a rather glorious climax of moral bloodshed in a Home Depot-like department store; it’s almost funny in its brutality. In the second, we see McCall’s cleverness come into play, as he takes down a four-man squad in an island town being battered by a hurricane. In The Equalizer 3, however, McCall’s campaign culminates in a series of killings that feel like something out of one of the Halloween movies. Robert McCall has become the boogeyman, a thing that goes bump in the night right before he splits your head open with a cleaver or jams a fire poker through the bottom of your mouth and into your brain. This is less an action movie than a horror picture; McCall is less a vigilante with a heart of gold than The Shape, reborn.
While this shift may be jarring for some, I find it fascinating; it feels as if Fuqua and writer Richard Wenk, who have teamed on all three of these movies, are asking us to really think about what, precisely, we’re cheering for when we pump our fists every time McCall dispatches an evildoer. The Equalizer 3 asks of McCall whether he can ever really find peace.
It asks us, the viewer, a slightly different question: Do we even really want him to?