Only nominally a part of the poliziotteschi cycle Damiano Damiani’s How to Kill a Judge is a slow burning and low key thriller. It totally eschews the high octane thrills and spills of the form in favour of political intrigue and Mafia subterfuge. At times its sedentary pace borders on total inertia, but it becomes abundantly clear that Damiano and his collaborators are intent on articulating a serious socio/political message, and seek to explore the ideological ramifications of corruption at the highest echelons of Italian society.
The film invests a great deal of time in characterisation, and the plot is carried along by dialogue rather than action. One of the major pitfalls of films with political intent is that they can forget to be entertaining, and at times How to Kill a Judge strays perilously close to becoming too dour for its own good. This is a very overpopulated film featuring a gallery of characters that slip in and out of the narrative with confusing irregularity. The character that does anchor proceedings is played by Franco Nero, he is an investigative journalist who uses the medium of cinema in order to express his own brand of leftist anti-authoritarianism.
Nero is on inspirational form here as he attempts to extricate himself from a complex web of lies and deception amid a police investigation, pressures from the mafia and his paymasters, the need to clear his own name, and a nagging guilt over his part in the death of the magistrate. The influence of the Mafia goes to the very heart of the Sicilian legal system, and the film ends on a predictably despairing and cynical note. One must admire Damiano for his daring non-sensationalist approach to the material, but a knowledge of Sicilian culture and the Mafia’s insidious role within it, is essential to fully enjoying this intelligent thriller.