Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nero Watches Rome Burn: A Review of "Street Law"

"Street Law" (1974) is a Death Wish style action film set in the seedy criminal underworld of Rome. Franco Nero is the "Surrogate Bronson" who shotguns, punches and bulldozes his way to revenge. Nero's hatred rivals that of herr Bronson's famous intensity. However, he is NOT seeking retribution for the rape and murder of a family member. No, Nero is supercharging his way toward 3 street punks because they took him hostage during a bank heist. The fugly creeps smacked Nero around a bit before letting him go with a few bruises easily explained by a rough game of Bocce Ball. This in turn warrants a 90 minute movie where our hero sleuths, bribes and over-acts his way back to these guys (who have probably raped a convent of nuns and lit them all on fire by the time he haphazardly stumbles across them in Act 3).

"Street Law” is a tremendous example of the excessive, bug eyed style of filmmaking made in Italy in the 1970s; the kind of film where you're not sure if the movie is a comedy or a drama until somebody kills a baby (it's a comedy!). Enzo Castellari, director of the explosive "Inglorious Bastards" and the regrettable "Last Shark", ladles spoonfuls of bloodshed and car wreckage to mask the overly complicated plot and head scratching twists. The action bludgeons each viewer into forgetting any scenes that included words, story or women.

Though the film’s overall structure is chaos, each action sequence is deliberately set up and beautifully paid off, usually ending with a slow motion shot of a face blasting through what appears to be real glass OR a chest explosion courtesy of a sawed off 12 gauge.

Slow motion is used more liberally in Italian filmmaking than abortions in Italian lovemaking and Castellari is a master of the technique (but which one?).

"Street Law” is not for everyone. It is both ugly and operatic, sleazy and classic and it is streaming instantly on Netflix as you read this. So, comb that moustache and rent those Tommy Guns (yes, a mobster tries to rent “Tommy Guns” in the film) and get ready for a greasy ride through one of Italy’s forgotten action gems!

Chris Gormley

UPDATE (01.06.13): Street Law is no longer an instant watch, but the entire film in up on youtube.

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