Thursday, September 21, 2023

Review: The Equalizer 3

Can a movie this bloody be beautiful? I guess so

My mother asked me what the movie I was going to see last Sunday was about. I told her The Equalizer 3 is about “Denzel Washington killing people for two hours.” She chuckled and said it was in character for him. In a way, that pithy description I used was accurate (I have also described the John Wick movies as “Keanu Reeves killing people for two hours” and I don’t think I’m wrong there either), but in some ways it undersells what’s going on in this film.

You get the distinct impression that Robert McCall, played by Washington, is just so sick and tired of this shit. He is a man who has seen shit, heinous shit, and you can see it in how he walks, how he talks, how he carries himself, how he looks at others. This is a man who feels the crushing weight of the last two movies, and you can’t blame him for wanting to get away from it all. The best line in the film is McCall talking to his enemies about how he had learned something about war and death and violence, but only here, in this town across the ocean, has he begun to learn about peace.

That town is on Sicily, land of scenic aerial shots of the coastline, as well as the mafia. Both feature prominently here; would an Equalizer movie set in Italy have any other villain? This town of Altamonte (not real, to my understanding, although there’s an Altomonte in Calabria, the toe of the Italian boot) isn’t just houses and churches (although you get plenty of those); you get to know the townsfolk, the cafes, the community events (there a parade sequence near the end that is magnificent in its pageantry).

Here the film plays with the stereotype of much of Mediterranean Europe that Americans have, of peace and beauty and joy and no suffering. That, of course, is the thin patina overlying the violence that exists here, the tentacles of organized crime that sneak into every nook and cranny, the fear that the beauty distracts from. Italy is a country with a relatively recent history of political violence, and before that, it was invaded (sunny Spain, with similar stereotypes, had a fascist dictator who held power til the 1970s and came to power in a bitter civil war; Portugal and Greece are quite similar). Indeed, how McCall ends up in Altamonte has its unsavory aspects. It makes the violence more hitting, more painful, as you come to love Altamonte; indeed part of me wanted to move there, how joyful and loving it seemed.

That’s where the pacing is so good: there is less violence in this film than in more fantastical shoot-em-ups, and much time spent developing Washington’s character and the town of Altamonte. Particularly, the relationship between him and Enzo (played by Remo Girone), the doctor who took him in, has many depths and nuances, and you feel an almost paternal quality from Enzo toward McCall. To the viewer's satisfaction, the violence avoids the risk of becoming meaningless, and this violence is very, very bloody, all blood spilled due to cruelty in Mediterranean Arcadia.

It took some rumination to phrase what impressed me the most about this film: it’s that it successfully persuades you that a man who drove a pistol through a mobster’s head and shot bullets through the back of his skull at other mobsters is, at his core, a good man. Director Antoine Fuqua and writer Richard Wenk don’t fall into the temptation to turn McCall into a man we love to hate; he is a good man who, because of his station, has had to do awful things. He has fought monsters for so long, but has miraculously avoided becoming a monster himself. It is a remarkable achievement. It’s what I imagine many soldiers end up like after they've fought for just causes. The good fight is not clean, even when it's fought to cleanse evil. It's not a situation I would wish on anyone, but if it has to happen, you better have the likes of Robert McCall at your disposal.

A side note (but not a complaint): much of the film is in Italian with English subtitles. I like this approach more than just rendering everything in English (Sisu, a recent Finnish action film I otherwise liked, took me out of the experience a bit by having dialogue in English rather than Finnish when the setting is clearly Finland). As fortune had it, I am doing Duolingo in Italian right now, and I noticed a few interesting bits of the language. There’s a bit where an Italian policeman refers disparagingly to an American CIA agent played by Dakota Fanning; the subtitles render the word ‘woman’ (‘donna’ in Italian) but he says the word ‘ragazza,’ literally ‘girl’ as taught to me by Duolingo, but Google Translate says it can also mean ‘lass,’ ‘gal,’ ‘girlfriend,’ ‘missy,’ ‘maid,’ and Google results suggest other translations, all denoting youth and more often than not a degree of dismissal (and, let’s be blunt, misogyny). His tone certainly gives that impression. Also, I like how the Italians say ‘CIA’ phonetically, sounding like ‘la cha’ in English.

The Equalizer 3 is more than Denzel Washington killing people for two hours, and it delivers it in a thoughtful, beautifully shot, but no less bloody package. I recommend it to all action junkies.


The Math

Highlights: Intense depth of character and theme, also graphic violence.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10

POSTED BY: Alex Wallace, alternate history buff who reads more than is healthy.