Police officer Domenico Malacarne (Luc Merenda) is the top officer on the force. Although the top brass would like to trot him out in front of the newspapers and shower him in accolades, Dom repeatedly refuses to take public credit, preferring to focus on his work, scoring Dom endless respect from his father Marshal Malancarne (Salvo Randone), a modest, low-ranking fellow officer. Sadly, Domenic isn't actually focusing on his work, but on collecting huge payouts to keep the criminal underworld in business. When Dom asks his father for a sensitive document and accidentally tips him off that he's working for the bad guys, it sets a chain of events in motion that will shatter his picture-perfect life.
Directed by Italian crime cinema master Fernando Di Leo, Shoot First, Die Later is an interesting twist on the "dirty cop" story, threading a strong backbone of personal emotion into the protagonist's betrayal of the laws he stands for. The fact that Dom is breaking the law is irrelevant compared to the fact that he's breaking his father's heart. When Marshal is introduced, he's visibly bursting with joy at the fact that his son is so successful and respected. The pain of the fall is further compounded by Marshal's lowly position as a cop in a quiet nearby burg, where he routinely takes complaints from a foreign local who believes everyone and everything is infringing on his rights. When the same local inadvertently places a ruthless gangster, Pascal (Raymond Pellegrin), in the area a body was dumped, Marshal has no intention of taking it seriously until his son shows up and tries to leave with the report.
The idea of perception plays an interesting role in the film. The villains perceive the report by the villager to be a crucial detail that could bring their whole operation to a halt, but it's their attempt to tie off those loose ends that cause everything to crumble. Di Leo shows us that Domenic can't stand many criminals and has some limits, but also the way he revels in the power he has over Pascal and the other crime bosses. When Marshal shows up at Dom's girlfriend's house to talk to Dom, he sees the beautiful woman, the expensive art on the walls, and assumes the worst of his son, but earlier, it's revealed that she's unsatisfied with the limited amount of time he spends with her and that he is so pressured by his legal and illegal responsibilities that he hardly enjoys the wealth it offers. Di Leo is not interested in the mechanics or basic tension that come with the double life, but the experience of living guilt and regret when the secrets begin to unravel. To an extent, the way this pays off in the third act is a bit simplistic, but it's fueled by the emotional web that Di Leo constructs in the earlier parts of the film, giving a standard about-face a little extra dramatic juice.
Although the film's pacing sometimes has an on-off feel that leaves something to be desired, Di Leo peppers the film with splashes of bloody style. It's a fairly brutal movie that allows the violence to hit home with a crude honesty that emphasizes the cruelty of the crimes. The film opens with a violent flourish as Pascal chides a local operation and one of his underlings for trying to make a deal in his name by knocking everyone to the ground and having a thug spray their knees with a machine gun. In one horrifying scene, Pascal's boys move to kill an animal. Two excellent car chases are included, each with a distinctly different feel. Shoot First, Die Later is a little thin and flawed overall to be an all-time crime classic, but it's a rough, unpolished gem that digs at deeper and more resonant ideas than the average thriller.
Raro Video brings Shoot First, Die Later to Blu in a handsome package. A matte cardboard slipcover slides over a Vortex Blu-Ray case. Each features different artwork (strangely enough, the slip features the more graphic image of a screaming man having his face blown off; the sleeve artwork depicts Merenda clutching a wad of bills). Inside the eco-case (less plastic, no holes), there is a lengthy 19-page booklet, with content by William McGivern and Nocturno Cinema.
The Video and Audio
Italian LPCM 2.0 opens with some muffled and tinny moments, that may briefly give the viewer pause, but quickly settles into a nice groove. Luis Bacalov's score has a nice range, activating the lower end. Two car chases liven the mix with growling engines and screeching tires. Dialogue is nice and clean, with that additional layer of separation that comes from a completely looped Italian film. Like the picture, it's an accurate representation of the elements, which are not in perfect shape, but are certainly better than what has been available previously. English subtitles are provided, which contain a number of small typos.
Raro's 1.85:1 1080p VC-1 was newly mastered in HD from the original negative. The print was in good shape -- almost no specks or scratches. The biggest plus here is the color, which is still nicely saturated. Although the image is a little lighter than it may have been intended to appear, the natural palette really shines. On the other hand, the weak spot is clarity; the picture is very soft and doesn't exhibit very much fine detail, even in close-ups. That said, some brief online research suggests that previous releases of the film were age-old public domain presentations, so this should be a very welcome step up anyway.
Two video extras are provided: an interview with Di Leo, "Master of the Game" (24:58, SD), and a featurette with Merenda, assistant director Franc Lo Cascio, and editor Amedeo Giomini, "The Second Round of the Game" (21:20, SD). These lengthy chats discuss a number of topics relating to Di Leo and his work, but they only briefly touch on Shoot First, Die Later in comparison to general discussion of the director and his work in the crime genre. On one hand, these features are not as interesting for newcomers to Di Leo's work, but it's good of Raro to have dug them up and included them.
Two original theatrical trailers (Italian and English) for Shoot First, Die Later are also included.
Recommended. Shoot First, Die Later takes a cop / criminal story that has been covered by thousands of movies and goes for the heart instead of the gut.