The Hit Movie Review

Anyone who has kept an eye on Stephen Frears, the prolific British director of The Queen and High Fidelity, must look at Criterion's release of The Hit, his hitmen-cum-road-trip slow-burner, with a cocked head and a raised eyebrow. Of all of the filmmaker's work not available in the US, including his inspired BBC oeuvre, why put out this relatively minor work? His auspicious breakthrough, Bloody Kids, is nearly impossible to see, and God knows what deranged studio head represses a proper release of the director's wild-eyed, anarchistic masterpiece, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. Perhaps it is not for us to know: The dark corridors and shady alleys of big-studio distribution, acquisitions, and marketing departments are scary places, dear reader.

This is not to say that The Hit is not vintage Frears. Beginning as a simple transport of a philosophical snitch from Spain to France, Frears' jaunt through the bucolic splendor of Western Europe quickly becomes a subtle meditation on what constitutes a "life worth living." Veteran assassin Braddock (John Hurt) has taken young Myron (Tim Roth in his debut performance) under his wing and along for the job of getting Willie Parker (Terence Stamp) to France and then quickly snuffing him. Ten years earlier, Parker sang like a bird about a top Brit gangster and now it's time to pay the piper. In place of panic and grieving, however, Willie seems completely at peace with his fate and his airy disposition sets both hitmen, especially Myron, off course.

As a whole, The Hit, like its meandering criminal prophet, often seems heavy on talk and very light on action. But when he wants to, Frears deploys scenes of such deft suspense that you nearly grind your teeth to the root. Watching Braddock wordlessly condemn Harry, a one-time acquaintance, to death is both a salute to Frears' craftsmanship and to John Hurt's irrefutable style. That Harry is played by Bill Hunter, the excellent Australian actor, is just the cherry. It is Harry's Spanish mistress Maggie (Laura del Sol, a wicked spitfire of an actress) who becomes the hassle when they are forced to take her along yet seem unable to kill her, partly because Myron has the hots for her and partly because Willy has thrown their entire system into disarray.

Though not as stately as The Queen nor as exciting as The Grifters, Frears' acidic con man flick, The Hit nevertheless transmits an alien grip on atmosphere and tone that keeps one enthralled even as it ponders the very basis of being. Also credit Peter Prince's surprising, well-crafted screenplay which never casts any of its character's as infallible, not even the cold and crafty Braddock. Stamp's performance, a nice foil to his aging gangster in Steven Soderbergh's The Limey, shifts at the precise moment and upends both the character and the hare-brained philosophy he sells so convincingly.

The film was shot, quite beautifully, by Mike Molloy, the cinematographer also responsible for Jerzy Skolimowski's long-buried masterpiece The Shout. Molloy accentuates space, often making the actors a minor part of the frame. Frears touches on similar themes in The Queen, but here, he makes no deals or intimations towards understanding death. All he knows is that it's coming, whether you fight it or not.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer :

Starring : , , , Laura del Sol

Comments

The Hit Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 1984

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