Even when Charles Bronson was at his worst, he still manages to be better than most actors today. Thankfully, Città violenta or Violent City is Bronson at his best. It finds him as the leading man in a film filled with gangsters and betrayal, with beauty on one side and ugliness on the other. Director Sergio Sollima takes a chance on a man not known for heading up films at this time in his life but the results pay off with a fast-paced crime thriller and Bronson proving that he can hold his own and be the actor that we would all come to know and love over the years to come.
Bronson plays Jeff Heston, an assassin for hire who is framed for a murder he did not commit and who loses the woman he cares for in the process. This is the Bronson we love the most – not the good guy who gets tough with the bad guys, but the anti-hero, the man who has a hard edge about him and will do whatever it takes to get the job done. The moral quandaries that plague the everyday person are not present, though there are those things that do get in the way of the man from being as completely effective as possible, things like love. Of course, love is what gets our man in trouble and continues to bring him trouble all throughout the film. While Heston might not show it outwardly, the man is able to care and to love and if he has one flaw, this is it. Other than that, he is a cool and collected type of man, he does the jobs he wants and those that he does not, he simply passes on. After Heston takes revenge upon the man who framed him, a man who was supposed to be his friend, he is then blackmailed into doing another job only to find out later that the woman he lost is still alive and well and married to his blackmailer.
The movie throws a few twists into the mix, and all of them having to do with Vanessa, the femme fatale of the film and the love interest of Heston. Played to perfection by the beautiful Jill Ireland, and future wife of Charles Bronson, she is unassuming to a fault. You never think that she is a player in the game until you ultimately find out that everyone else in the film is playing in hers. She is the spider and Heston, her husband and everyone else are simply flies to be toyed with. She uses Heston to get what she wants, cons her husband Al Weber portrayed by the great Telly Savalas and plays Umberto Orsini’s character Steve against the both of them.
Character work aside, there is a lot to love about this movie including some great scenes, one involving a car chase that is quite thrilling to start the movie off right and lets you know exactly the kind of picture this is going to be. It then finds Bronson sitting in jail while he toys with a tarantula, a nice little bit of symbolism by Sollima that will have you thinking one way when the opposite is true. The entire movie also features some fantastic shots by Also Tonti, specifically those times when Heston is out to use his rifle whether near the racetrack or on a building, a speck amongst the vastness of the city. Legendary composer Ennio Morricone provides the film with a soundtrack that subtly enhances the suspense and the tension throughout while our hero does what he does best up until that explosive finale. Città violenta is not only a great crime-thriller but is also a perfect Charles Bronson film. It is a film that has the man in his element, playing a character you might have seen before, yet in a film from earlier in his career that might have passed you by. If you should get a chance to rectify that, then take it.