November 12, 2011

Violent City (1970)

Directed by Sergio Sollima. Starring Charles Bronson ("Jeff Heston"), Telly Savalas ("Al Weber"), Jill Ireland ("Vanessa Shelton"), and Umberto Orsini ("Steve"). Rated R.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Anchor Bay)
Running time: 01:49:15
Country: Italy, France

Jeff (Charles Bronson) is a "professional" (a hitman) who's on the receiving end of a double-cross involving his girlfriend Vanessa (Bronson's real-life main squeeze, Jill Ireland) and a wealthy race car driver named Harry, who Jeff considered a friend. Jeff ends up in jail for reasons that I needn't get into, where he spends his time reflecting on the betrayal and no doubt plotting his revenge for when he gets out. Once he's finally released, however, things don't exactly turn out as planned. He immediately falls back in love with Vanessa, who proceeds to play mind games with him, and he finds that someone has put a contract on his head for whatever reason. Paranoia ensues? Yeah, I think that's about it.

If I had to sum up the deliberately-paced VIOLENT CITY as quickly as possible, the first thing that comes to mind would be that it's like a cross between THE MECHANIC and THE AMERICAN. Bronson plays the similar emotionally-reserved professional assasin in this as he did in THE MECHANIC, albeit not as cold and dedicated to his profession (he actually tries to walk away from the suggested organized crime lifstyle he led at one time in this film), and it's got the same subtle fish out of water feeling in this as in THE AMERICAN in regards to how the anti-hero is juxtaposed by both the exotic location and the people surrounding him; even though most of this movie was filmed in Louisiana, it has an inherently "foreign" atmosphere since it's an Italian production. Haven't seen THE MECHANIC or THE AMERICAN? Well, shit. You probably should.

The most noteworthy thing about VIOLENT CITY is how stylish it is. The movie opens with a very colorful James Bond-esque opening titles sequence in which Bronson and Ireland are portrayed as a somewhat powerful couple who are being watched from afar in a voyeuristic manner, presumably by someone who's spying on them through a camera lens. In general, VIOLENT CITY is gorgeously-shot and almost dreamlike at times, which really helps to make up for the fact that it's not the most exciting crime movie you'll ever see, although I like to think of it as more of a break-up film. I don't mind a good slow-burn type of movie every once in a while, but this film in particular is not something you wanna watch if you're deprived of sleep.

A tough-guy actor in his own right, Telly Savalas plays a mobster named Weber, who tries to recruit Bronson's character into his "family". According to director Sergio Sollima (REVOLVER), Bronson and Savalas, for whatever reason, never got along behind the scenes and stayed seperate during the production of the film, although this may be due to the fact that Bronson normally didn't say much and kept to himself anyway. While the on-screen pairing of Bronson and Savalas may be a draw for some people, it's the sub-plot involving Bronson and Jill Ireland that makes the film as interesting as it is, in my opinion.

Had Bronson's character stuck to the promise he apparently made to himself while in jail, he would have put a bullet in Ireland's head upon finding her after being released, but it ends up not being the case. Instead, he's unable to let go of the feelings he once had for her, and thus falls victim to her mind games once again as she basically leads him on and takes advantage of him. I really like the fact that Bronson's character is flawed in that respect. The inability to let go of a someone you love is something that a lot of guys can relate to, not matter how "macho" they may appear to be on the outside. It's one thing to keep pursuing someone after they make a decision to leave you (which, admittedly, I have been guilty of in the past), but it's another thing to be lied to and taken advantage of. The latter would best describe the situation of Bronson's character here, but it should be said that Bronson is very much aware of the fact he's being made a fool of by Ireland's character, which speaks volumes about the emotional vulnerabilities of Bronson's character.

VIOLENT CITY isn't your typical Eurocrime movie, and in fact I wouldn't even label it as being a part of the genre, personally. As I said earlier, it's a very slow but stylish film, and definitely not something you wanna watch if you're tired, but I have confidence in saying that watching this film will prove to be a rewarding experience if you can invest yourself in it. The film's finale in particular, which sees a drastic character arc for Bronson, is pretty amazing.

Score: 6.5

1 comment:

  1. I need to give this film another chance. For whatever reason, the first time I sat down to watch it, I HATED IT. Now that I've seen many, many more Italian crime films over the last few years, maybe I'm man enough for Violent City.