Let’s face it, the review for this is simple. Denzel is at his stone cold best killing people who deserve to die. If you want that, here it is. That’s it.
OK, as much as I want to leave it with the above couple of sentences, there really is more to the movie and it is worth talking about. If all you are looking for is a recommendation, see above. Mr. Washington is back as former government operative Robert McCall. He is a man with deadly skills who is putting them to use in the most productive ways he can think of. The 2014 film was something of an origin story, if like this film, you can see this character as a superhero. In my original review of that film, I suggested that this is an inversion of a horror story, but I think the superhero metaphor is apt if a little too on the nose.
There are several episodic sections of the film where we get a chance to see the hero/monster McCall in action. He rescues a stolen child, avenges an abused woman and draws a line for a local drug network. We also see him engaging with people on a superficial but empathetic level. The TV show used classified ads in a newspaper to find people who needed help. At the end of the last film, it sounded like we were going to connect with the downtrodden on line. Those approaches disappear in this film. Mr. McCall is working as a Lyft driver and he seems to happen onto the people who need help. Maybe it is an interesting twist, maybe it sheds the string that held the tv series together, neither matters. What happens in this story is a trip to the past for the character. The one friend that he kept from his time as a government asset, gets involved in s plot which we never quite know anything about, and trouble ensues.
Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo return as the one set of friends Mac has, and they are knee deep in some kind of nefarious activity that is not authorized by the agency but does turn out to have some connections. Pedro Pascal is introduced as Robert’s former partner, who provides some assistance in investigating the events that turn McCall loose. No other characters from the first film return but there is another mentor relationship in the film that gives Denzel a chance to be the kind of father he wasn’t in “Fences”. Two or three other people are going to benefit from his largess as well. So like Robin Hood, McCall is taking from some to give to others. It is not profitable, but it seems to sooth his guilty soul from time to time.
Duplicity is inherent in films like this. The one thing that makes the betrayal in this story tolerable is that we get a chance to see a bit of the life of the betrayer. Another film would ignore this aspect of a story, or try to turn it into a subplot in some way. Here it is presented as a casual piece of character development that makes you wish even more that the reality of the backstabbing were not true. Usually, all we get is the bad guy’s rationalization for his or her actions. The unique part of this story is the mundane way of life the villain seems to lead. You might even feel sorry for the character as you empathize with those who will be hurt by what has to happen. Director Antoine Fuqua and writer Richard Wenk have added a bit of character to the film that makes it step up from the shoot’em up that this really is.
Sometimes the plot is murky. There are characters that get taken out pretty quickly, and maybe before we really get a sense of what is going on. It may not matter that we don’t quite understand how the dominoes started falling in the plot mechanism, but it felt noticeable to me. It doesn’t really matter however because plenty of people die at Denzel’s hands and he knows how to convey cold-hearted justice. He is smart, brutal and efficient, just like this movie.