Original Title: Il cittadino si ribellaYear: 1974
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Writer: Massimo De Rita (story), Arduino Maiuri (screenplay)
Carlo Antonelli, an engineer from Genoa, gets mugged and decides to take justice into his own hands. At first the muggers seem to get the upper hand, but then he's helped by Tommy, a young robber who takes his side.
I went into Street Law not knowing what to expect. It started off with a bang, then moved to a slow simmer for the rest of the first half. But it certainly picked up in the second half and actually kind of turned into something I was not quite expecting.
The opening sequence in the film is just simply awesome. I tihnk it may be one of my favorite genre film openings I have seen since I started writing these reviews. It starts off showing
some men break into and vandalize an apartment while the music builds.
We then see a smashed
document on the floor that is translated "ITALIANS REBEL!" as the music then really kicks in,
and we see a series of rather violent crimes being committed around Genoa, from a mugging and stealing to outright assassinations and kidnapping. The music is loud and in your face, as is the filming. There are pauses in the action as the credits roll, only to come out to guns blasting and blood flying. It is at the same time stylish and jarring.
Franco Nero appears here in a role unlike I've seen him in before. I am used to seeing the blonde haired/blue eyed heroes in these Italian films as a detective or some other strong individual, but Nero plays the humiliated, frustrated, and sometimes helpless Carlo, a man kidnapped, beaten, and unsatisfied by the help he receives. I mentioned before that the movie changes into something I was not expecting. By that I mean Carlo does not turn into a super vigilante, killing criminals with skill and ease like the Punisher. He instead makes mistakes, some worse than others, and grows more frustrated as the audience grows more tense. After a large mistake, as we really get into the second half as I mentioned, the action picks up.
Nero is fantastic as usual, and I think he may have dubbed his own lines. It is all in English, and his character stands out as having a noticeable Italian accent that I thought sounded pretty cool (despite the film actually taking place in Italy where they would probably not be speaking English.)
The other characters are fine if not forgettable, but poor Giancarlo Prete playing Tommy just did not stand a chance. He did not seem like the strongest actor ever, but put in serious scenes with Nero killing it right next to him made little flaws stand out even more. This is very much Nero's film to carry, though, so it's all OK.
What this film does is not give us a guns-blazing, cars-crashing, fists-flying romp, but rather a nicely built story of a man who has reached his limit and learns from his mistakes as he takes matters into his own hands. He becomes a man obsessed almost, and his enthusiasm gets him into trouble in an underworld he obviously knows little about. I thought it was an interesting twist on the style of film.
I've mentioned the music, which added a lot to the film. Castellari's style can be seen quite
a bit as well with his slow motion, filling the frame, etc. All the little tricks show up at one time or
another (there's a great scene with Carlo being chased in a dirty lot by a man driving a Mustang that uses slow motion quite well), but the difference here is that it is much more subtle than in other Italian action films I have seen.
I think this works in Castellari's favor. We focus on Carlo's mission and the story instead of the flashy style of a someone like a handsome detective who would do this sort of work for a living. It is a more simple and serious approach to filming a story of a man learning the ropes so to speak. (We do lose the seriousness for a brief time with Carlo's sawed-off shotgun which behaves more like a cannon than a hand held firearm!)
It is still very well shot and paced, but is not as fast and in-your-face as similar films may be.
As much as I enjoyed Nero's performance and the film as a whole, I could not help but think about the moral/social implications put out there by Street Law. This story could be seen as incendiary. It was released at a time, at least in the United States, when crime was a serious problem. Showing police figures act roughly with criminals like a Dirty Harry is one thing, but having a citizen act out and take the law into his own hands is entirely another thing. I realize that films like these are made for entertainment, but when we are given a theme like this, and messages like ITALIANS REBEL, it really feels like it is toeing the line of being responsible versus simply just a film.
That sort of message could border on propaganda to some audiences.
Seeing this now, I can make the distinction. I was not alive when films like Death Wish and other vigilante copy-cats were current, so for that time, I'm not so sure.
Regardless, this film is well done and fun while still being tense and serious. This gets a high recommendation from me.
7.5 out of 10