This entry is a bit of a bewildering choice to me. By the time you come to a third entry in an action franchise you expect the film to be a ramped-up parody of the best features people enjoyed from the predecessors. Director Antoine Fuqua and writer Richard Wenk decide to go in the opposite direction here – choosing to provide a slow and artsy film that owes more to American Westerns than American action films. That's not inherently a negative, but it does feel like a disappointing bait and switch to me as there’s very little action here and what we do get is nearly quick on the physicality and drawn out on the drama. It’s well over an hour into the film before Denzel confronts our villains here and even then, there’s really no kinetic back and forth.
That doesn’t mean the basic tropes aren’t here, just that this is largely a stand-alone film that plays out a bit more like a franchise starter than a third entry with an established franchise formula. With a bit of tweaking, this could easily be a Clint Eastwood Western from the 60’s or 70’s. The film begins with Denzel’s Robert McCall in a small Italian seaside town recovering from wounds he received taking out some bad Italian dudes. As he recovers, he makes friends with those in the town and struggles to reconcile his faith with the violence he’s committed at his hands. Though it all looks and feels deeper than that (thanks to cinematographer Robert Richardson), it's not really all that deep.
Yes, it’s another conflicted righteous avenger story. Wouldn’t you know it, a greedy Italian crime group has their eyes set on this sleepy little Italian village and using intimidation and violence they try and secure the ability to put up casinos and resorts. Will McCall sit by and watch these innocent new friends get bullied? There’s also a side story featuring Dakota Fanning as a CIA operative investigating a drug/terrorism connection.
The director and Denzel seem to be quite enjoying the formula switch here – one can easily imagine Denzel discussing a potential third entry “I’m only interested if we find a way to do something new where I don’t have to do much physically…I’ve always liked Westerns…”. There’s an enjoyable focus on aesthetics (moreso than usual for the genre) and I appreciate the thoughtful pace, but the film just never feels like it delivers the promised action goods here. The easter egg reunion of Denzel and Fanning is a nice idea, but she comes off a bit light in the role and her story a bit thin. That not a bad summation of the film actually – a nice idea but a bit light and thin for what we’ve grown used to in this franchise.
OVERALL GRADE: C