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Content Caution

The Equalizer 3 2023


In Theaters


Home Release Date




Bob Hoose

Movie Review

Even when you’re retired from unleashing violence you’ve trained all your life to perfect, sometimes it’s still hard to stay out of the fight. And that’s especially true if you’re a good person.

Now, I know that sounds counterintuitive. But, I mean, a bad person will see bad things happen to innocent people and just walk away without a second thought. But a good person? A good guy like Robert McCall, a former wet-work intelligence officer, finds it really tough not to get involved.

He may want to simply disappear into a crowd. Drink his tea. Read his book. And then never again have to read a room and calculate how quickly he can break three specific bones, slash four particular throats, and fell the last thug standing by jamming a pistol into a foe’s eye and using his head as a makeshift silencer.

Yeah, McCall might want to leave all that behind. But when a small girl cries out because someone is abusing her, or when a thief puts a knife to an innocent woman’s throat, well, a good man can’t simply walk away.

That’s what landed McCall in Sicily, Italy, of all places. McCall went there to retrieve something important that was stolen from an average Joe he had met. But then he stumbled into a hive of narcotics runners, was forced to killed everyone and was shot in the back in the process.

Fortunately, before McCall bled out, he was found by some locals in that small Italian community. They patched him up. Gave him a place to recuperate from his wound. Those folks even began to treat him like one of their own as his recovery time slowly passed.

Normally, getting shot isn’t a blessing. But that violent event has unexpectedly become one of the best things that ever happened to McCall. That’s because this welcoming community of people just fits for him. And this kind and giving group of people make it plain that he fits with them, too.

Perhaps his philosophy about life is coming true.

You see, McCall’s always believed that life leads you to where you’re supposed to be. Even if you’ve spent your life killing, your desire for good will eventually lead you to someplace good, he believes. And this place, this season might just be it for him. This might be his perfect place to disappear and put those violent days behind him forever.

Then again, maybe not.

As he’s pausing on a small cobblestone roadway and looking up to a large cross planted on a nearby picturesque hillside, McCall hears a group of local mobsters forcibly “encouraging” a friendly local vendor to fork over protection money. He turns to see the thugs’ sneering faces, their glowing cigarettes, their leering hatred. He watches his dear locals quail in fear. He looks at the blood dripping down, Angelo, the vendor’s face.

And he knows.

Peace may not be McCall’s lot quite yet. Bad things happen in life. And far too many times, those bad things go unpunished.

This, however, ain’t one of those times.

Positive Elements

Robert McCall is welcomed by the small Italian community where he’s initially shot and badly wounded. With few exceptions, they’re a giving and kind community. A local doctor not only patches McCall’s gunshot wound, but he offers McCall a room in his own home where he can recover. McCall later asks the doctor, Enzo, why he was so giving to a stranger. And Enzo reminds McCall that when he was first gaining consciousness, Enzo asked if he was a good or a bad man. McCall answered that he wasn’t sure. “Only a good man would say that,” Enzo declares.

In turn, McCall uses his recovery time to meet people in the community. He frequents their businesses. He helps when there’s a fire at a local seafood shop. And he’s even willing to lay his life down and turn himself over to the Mafia mob boss rather than allow the locals to be harmed. (But when he does this for them, several members of the community offer themselves in his stead.)

McCall also calls a CIA agent, Emma Collins, to report a drug-running group that he discovered upon arriving in Italy. Collins earnestly works to foil an international crime syndicate that’s running drugs and funding terrorism. And in the course of the case, she’s almost killed.

We learn later that McCall has an unknown connection to Collins through someone he once helped. McCall also had put his life on the line to retrieve an older man’s direly needed pension, that was stolen through internet fraud.

Spiritual Elements

The Italian community that McCall lands in tends to be faith-focused as a whole. We see a large cross on a nearby hillside. People have religious paintings on the walls of their homes. There are several scenes near a local church, and someone mentions a fresco in the church that depicts a miracle. We see two priests working with and comforting members of the community. And the whole town parades down the street in a public ceremony, carrying a statue of a Catholic saint.

Early on, McCall asks his benefactor, Dr. Enzo, where he is. And the doctor answers, “Where you’re supposed to be,” a statement that closely mirrors McCall’s perspective on the nature of life and faith in general.

When a man named Vincent, the boss of the local Mafia group known as the Camorra, steps out of a church, his younger brother asks if he’s been praying. He then scoffs that God isn’t listening.

Sexual Content

We see several life-size marble statues of nude men and women in Vincent’s home. The statues are old and worn, but unclothed male and female anatomy is still clearly visible.

Several Camorra thugs threaten a mother and her young daughter in their home, and the woman is dressed only in a shirt and underwear.

Violent Content

The Camorra thugs manhandle men and women alike. They beat a shop vendor and jam his face into a tub of ice. They beat a police officer to the ground in front of his wife and child, punching him repeatedly in the face and kicking him. The assault leaves him cut, bloody and bruised.

These goons roughly drag his young daughter in front of the police officer as well, holding a pistol to her temple and screaming at the girl. Later they make the same man kneel in the town square and shoot off his ear. (They also shove the man’s partially clothed wife around, but there’s no direct indication that they’ve sexually assaulted her.) The same thugs terrorize and threaten the town at large. And we see them set a local shop on fire.

Vincent, the Camorra boss, stabs the town’s head of police, impaling and pinning his hand to a desk. Another man cuts the police chief’s hand off with hacking slashes. He’s then sent staggering back to his vehicle and off to the hospital with his hand in an ice bucket.

CIA agents are killed in a massive car bomb attack. Agents lay scattered on the ground as several cars burn. In the explosion, agent Collins is thrown a good 10 feet or more across a parking lot. She’s left bloodied and writhing in pain.

We see a news footage of a massive terrorist explosion in Rome that leaves a large portion of the city in flames. A boy shoots a man in the back with a .22 rifle. A man in a wheelchair is sent crashing through a third-story window and left to hang by his neck.

In response to the violence that the Camorras inflict upon the town, McCall unleashes his killing abilities on scores of men, individually and in well-choreographed group kills.

At the beginning of the film, for instance, a mob boss walks into his vineyard compound, and the camera examines all the gory ways that his men that have been killed. Some have knives jammed in their bodies and brows. Some have been gutted. Some have headshots that leave gore splashed against walls and pooled on the floor, etc. (We see all of these kills in a quick, streaming flash back later on.)

McCall takes out various bad guys by breaking their bones and shooting them (including one enemy whose back he blasts with a shotgun). And he watches one wounded man torturously drag himself across the room before landing the killing shots.

And that litany of violence is really just the tip of the bloody iceberg here.

Men get impaled, shot through the back of the head, shot through the eye, garroted, beheaded, slashed open, have a knife jammed up through their chin, crushed by speeding vehicles and meet still other gory ends. One guy is tied up by wires around his waist and neck and fed a large dose of drugs. And then McCall follows him as he tries to drag himself to safety while choking on his own vomit-like excretions. Etc.

Crude or Profane Language

Characters use about five f- and s-words each in the dialogue, some in English and some captioned Italian.

Drug and Alcohol Content

We see a number of clear packets of pills that we’re told contain an illegal synthetic amphetamine. Drug runners, we hear, are smuggling into Italy and selling around the world.

Characters drink wine at dinner. We see multiple bottles of wine and champagne in restaurants and other areas.

Several men smoke cigarettes.

Other Negative Elements

Many Italian officials are portrayed as being deeply corrupt.


Life can seem brimming with injustice. When we scan our social media feeds and news channels, we see horrible things being doled out daily like thrown ladles of boiling water. And no matter how good, kind or upright we judge ourselves to be, there’s a small raw patch inside all of us that achingly longs to see bad people dealt with as harshly as they deal with others.

That’s why there’s always a market for Equalizer films, and other stories like it. They’re well-crafted pics that give us a slice of retributive justice! So we grab our popcorn and candy, and clamber on in.

In the case of “hero” Robert McCall, he also goes to great lengths to seek goodness, kindness and self-betterment before he tortures someone in painful ways … or simply just cuts loose and butchers them. He helps the good, and tries to warn the bad. Tries to give them a chance at a wiser choice. And that makes his deadliness better. Kind of. At least we tell ourselves as much.

But let’s face it, when Denzel Washington’s McCall takes his cinematic pound of flesh, it’s a gory and grisly pound (or two or three) indeed. He guts, gouges, beheads and shoots through baddie’s cerebral cortex in far more gruesome ways than your average thugs do.

So, is there a healthy version of grotesque butchery and agonizing torture that’s OK to watch onscreen?

Or is it … all not so great?

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Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.