Fists in the Pocket is a "fuck you" movie, the kind that could only be made by a young director. Bellocchio was just 26 when he made this debut, and like so many famous examples has been unable to match its heights in the nearly fifty years since. There are a lot of dysfunctional families in the Collection, but this one ranks right up there, with a mentally challenged brother, a blind mother, and a brother who just might be homicidal and appears to be having an affair - or at least an unconsummated one - with his sister. Attempting to hold them all together in his worst Jason Bateman impression is a brother who would much prefer to get in his girlfriend's pants than deal with his ball and chain of a family.
The performance at the center of the film is a brilliant one (though I did frequently think throughout "that guy really doesn't look Italian" - and in fact he's Swedish). Lou Castel's ability to hold rage and insanity just under the boiling point makes the film seem always on the edge of descending into parody in the best way. Because you never doubt for a second that he is capable of what he threatens, the suspense builds from the beginning. But it manages to take nothing away from the shock and chills of seeing the deeds actually done. The scene in which he races another car on a cliffside after telling his brother he is going to kill the entire family is one of the great suspenseful sequences I've seen.
Fists in the Pocket is a dark, angry movie about family, morality, and the crushing responsibility of social obligation. It's also unlike any other Italian movie I've seen, certainly up to that point in history. Buñuel called the movie over-the-top, which is kind of like Spielberg calling a movie too sentimental. But I think what his comments about the film reveal is that the old guard didn't really have a place for this kind of open lashing out. It borders on nihilism, certainly, but doesn't get there because it's so totally unconcerned with the end goal. Fists in the Pocket is a brash act of violence within its frames, but really against the establishment both filmic and societal, something that is greatly needed in every generation. It's also riveting cinema.