If you are of a disposition to worry about the world, here’s a film that will make you worry about it just a little bit more.
It’s difficult to think of a movie in recent times which has lavished quite this much love, care and imagination on the depiction of extreme violence. Oh yes, we get it in every shape and form: a wheelchair user hanged from a window; a police chief going home with his severed hand in an ice bucket; and in the opening scenes, we linger gently as we pass a ne’er-do-well with a machete embedded in his head – and this not long before our hero of the night shoots another hoodlum through the eye socket he’s just gouged out of someone else.
It's hideous, repeatedly truly utterly ghastly – and you can’t help but wonder at the mentality which goes into devising it all. A few years ago, this would have been an outright 18. Now it’s a feeble 15. Just how bad do things have to get? And yet perhaps the most annoying thing is that it is actually a really good film. There is a massive moral element running through it, a clear sense of good versus evil, and even if it’s not quite enough to justify the extremes of the violence, maybe it’s what makes The Equalizer 3 quite so compelling.
Having slaughtered almost an entire mafiosi family single-handedly just before the film begins, retired government assassin (the kind of job that presumably doesn’t get advertised) Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is sitting serenely waiting for the rest of them to get home so he can finish the job. And then he decamps to a quaint Italian seaside town where he starts to develop friendships. In a rare moment of sentimentality, he tells us that he has known pain, he has known violence, but now he is getting to know peace. The trouble for him – and for the rest of the town – is that they are all being terrorised by another gang of mafia thugs, led by two grisly brothers who are wanting to take over the coast.
And that’s when our Equaliser of the title stirs his stumps. He’s taken a liking to these people – variously a super-helpful doctor, the café waitress, a much put-upon fishmonger, a rather ineffective policeman and the policeman’s sweet little daughter. McCall realises that it’s down to him to get them all out of the villain’s grips – which he then sets out to do in his usual cool, calm, collected, efficient, take-no-prisoners way.
From the opening scenes, you fear that this is going to be a bloodbath film of supreme unintelligence. It isn’t. You certainly wouldn’t watch it for your edification, but it really does turn out to be a gripping couple of hours, Washington as charismatic as ever as the avenging angel the town probably didn’t ever dare dream it was going to get. But the violence. Could it have been toned down just a bit? Or is that being too squeamish? Maybe best to accept it as an ultra-violent movie which redeems itself to an extent by actually having something to say. Even so, the sheer casualness of the slaughter is exceptionally distasteful.