Based on the 1990 murder of a young magistrate in Sicily, “Law of Courage” (literally, “The Boy Judge”) nobly salutes an unsung hero in Italy’s ongoing battle against the Mafia. Though the story will have most resonance in Italy, its anguishing atmosphere could make it work as a genre thriller offshore.
Avoiding the tense, action-packed scripting that made a national hit of the TV series “The Octopus” (also produced by RCS), young helmer Alessandro di Robilant and his scripters, Ugo Pirro and Andrea Purgatori, concentrate on the mundane, day-to-day life of young judge Rosario Livantino (played by boyish thesp Giulio Scarpati.) A four-square, churchgoing fellow who lives with his aged parents, Rosario takes his work as a public prosecutor very seriously. He believes that justice must be carried out at all costs and that the foundation for his work is not in people’s opinions but in the law.
In the small, Mafia-ridden town of Canicatti, this is revolutionary thinking. Rosario’s determination frightens his parents, annoys his boss and estranges his fiancee. Finally it isolates him even from the other young public prosecutors, who are more cautious than he.
At that point Mafia boss Renato Carpentieri knows he has Rosario where he wants him. Two youths on a motorcycle gun him down on the road to Agrigento.
Scarpati portrays Rosario as a closed person who takes few risks on the personal plane — though his hesitation about marrying lawyer Angela (Sabrina Ferilli) is also motivated by his belief he’ll die young.
His idealism is strikingly out of key with the rest of Canicatti, and even becomes irritating in a fire-and-brimstone speech he gives to an assembly of town dignitaries. This harangue is refrained several times in the course of the film, with elephantine heaviness.
What saves the film is Rosario’s admirably unshakable conviction that he represents Good, which wins its own victories over Evil, and which can die but never disappear. Outwitting the politicians in Rome, who try to protect the Mafiosi, Rosario succeeds in bringing the bosses to trial. His cold authority in interrogating the criminals, be they brutes or charming next-doorneighbors like Carpentieri, is exhilarating to watch.
Supporting cast is high-quality, notably the excellent Regina Bianchi and Leopoldo Trieste as Rosario’s folks. As the girlfriend, the oddly cast Ferilli (launched in “Diary of a Maniac”) constantly has to fight down a sex-kitten image to be credible as the only female lawyer this side of Palermo.
David Scott’s cinematography underlines the scorched, melancholy beauty of Sicily, while Franco Piersanti’s harsh, unmelodic score creates much of the film’s tension. Film’s pace is speedy, sometimes overly so, allowing no time for reaction shots to reap an emotional harvest.