SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER sounds more like a title for a Spaghetti Western than a modern day Eurocrime. I'm sure this film has many different titles and translations depending on what market of the world it was distributed to. Director Fernando Di Leo has made an excellent entry into the genre. The first thirty minutes or so I wasn't very impressed. The film is kind of ordinary in it's initial appearance. Most likely the film was quickly shot. There isn't any well thought out creative camera angles and compositions to make the film any different from all the other hastily made Dirty Harry knock offs from seventies Italy. I can't even remember the music. However, if you wait you will be rewarded with a simple but very compelling story about the consequences of police corruption. Its the story that makes SHOOT FIRST worth a watch. The ending is great too which I will be spoiling completely in this review because I love it!
SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER opens with a large bow tied mafia boss named Pascal having a bunch of local drug dealers shot in the legs for doing business behind his back. Later an eccentric old man tries to leave his house to get milk for his cat but his gate has been blocked by a couple of cars to where he can't get out. This prompts the old man to file a police report. Meanwhile police officer, Domenico (Luc Merenda) busts some gun runners. After being glorified for busting them Domenico gets word to show up to a meeting. That meeting ends up being with Pascal. Domenico is actually working for the mob! They inform Domenico that there was a report filed involving the parked cars that links Pascal to a recent murder. Domenico is to get rid of that report. The problem is that with the escalation of the murder investigation everyone involved with filing that report is now a witness and Domenico knows it. The police officer who wrote down and filed that report just happens to be Domenico's father.
Domenico is a carefree kind of cop. He busts the bad guys, gets into high speed car chases through the crowded streets of Milan and at the end of the day goes to his girlfriend Sandra's apartment to make sweet sweet love. He does all of this and helps out the mob with their coffee and tobacco trade. For Domenico and his partner Garrito (Rosario Borelli) this is small time harmless crime and easy money. They see no wrong in it. He doesn't realize that the Mafia are expanding their trade into guns and drugs until Domenico busts two Portuguese gun runners that are dealing with Pascal. Domenico learns the hard way that working for the mob is not harmless fun and the only thing he needs to buy with his ill gotten gains is a fancy new casket.
What a great movie! The first thirty minutes sets up the true drama that comes later almost unassumingly. The movie comes across as just another silly tough guy movie but the moment you see that Domenico is corrupt everything changes. There is an invisible noose around Domenico's neck that tightens with every passing scene as he tries to get that report out of the hands of his father. We see that his father is very proud of him. When Domenico has to reveal to his father that he is working for the mob it breaks his father's heart. His father reluctantly brings Domenico the report breaking the law and making his father corrupt too. His father never forgives him and he isn't given time to do so because he is murdered after giving the report to Domenico. This propels Domenico into going after Pascal but doing so costs him everything.
SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER is about the price one pays for being corrupt. Though he doesn't realize it, Domenico has lost his soul. Our protagonist is not any better than the bad guys he gets revenge on. One of the best and most revealing moments of the film is when Domenico, Garrito and another cop who we see early on is not part of the police corruption go to Sandra's apartment to save her from some hitmen. After pulling up to the apartment Domenico sends the innocent cop to the front door to ring the bell. Domenico just watches and waits as if he already knows what is about to happen next. BOOM! The cop dies from a rigged explosive after ringing the door bell. Domenico shows no concern as he charges into the apartment only to find his girlfriend dead on the bed. He sent the cop to die and it didn't bother him. Domenico is truly lost to the world of sin.
Throughout the film Domenico tries to stay ahead of the mob. He avoids their traps and bullets. Finally he strikes a deal with Pascal's lawyer and second in command, Mazzanti played Richard Conti. A meeting is set up where Domenico meets with Pascal face to face. Pascal offers his hand to end all the trouble but Domenico shoots him in the face. Mazzanti and his men leave but Garrito walks up behind Domenico and shoots him in the head. And that is how the film ends. You can never truly escape the consequences of corruption. Its a cruel and unforgiving ending. Garrito was a trusted friend. At the funeral for Domenico's father Garrito is the only one with tears in his eyes. After going back and watching the movie again I have to wonder if he is crying for Domenico's loss or is he upset that he has already been tasked to kill his best friend? Will Garrito have a similar fate in the future?
SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER has some good tough guy moments to help pass the run time but it is the story that makes this a definite must watch. Luc Merenda as Domenico is a surprise. At the beginning I dismissed him as just another tough guy actor but his acting chops shine through in the scenes involving drama between him and his father. You feel for him as he tries to persuade his father that what he did wasn't all that bad.
The Italians know how to have a good surprise ending. They have to for having so many similar films produced at the same time. I like the endings where at the end when all is said and done our hero still manages to get themselves perished at the hands of a friend or random thug. BIG GUNS has a similar ending. If you feel like you have seen everything then let me recommend the horror and Eurocrime films from Italy. You never know what you are going to get. Over the years I have become a reluctant fan and now embrace them looking for the next surprise. The search never gets old.