The Hit (1984)

5 07 2009

Easily one of the most pleasant cinematic surprises in quite some time. It may have helped a great deal that I wasn’t expecting much outside of the great cast, but whatever the case, it is a rare example of  a film completely exceeding my expectations. The Tarantino comparisons that have been used to push the new Criterion DVD are not only unwarranted, they are a downright insult. In all honesty, this bears a greater resemblance to deadpan comedic stylings of Aki Kaurismaki and/or Jim Jarmusch. Sure, the narrative is a bit more heavy and dark than anything those guys would do, but Frears still manages to bring a similar sense of profound observational humor.


Willie Parker, played cool and collectively by Terrence Stamp, rats out his gangster colleagues as a part of some deal with the court. He escapes to Spain and safely hides there for ten years. Then, his peaceful existence is interrupted by the appearance of Mr. Braddock and Myron, John Hurt and Tim Roth respectively. They kidnap him with the intention of transporting him to Paris, where he is to be read his last rites by his former boss, Corrigan. But, as one can anticipate, things don’t go so smoothly. In fact, they go as poorly as possible. Matters become only more complicated when Maggie, a scheming Spanish  prostitute, joins the trip.

There’s many things that separate Frears’ picture from the class it is breed from, but the most obvious element lies in the lack of dialogue. Like his editing, dialogue is sparse and simple, not to mention devoid of any sort of exposition. Of course, little exposition is needed as the plot (of what little there is) is set up in is entirety by the twenty minute mark. The pleasures of Frears’ film are not in the developments of the narrative, but in the unorthodox human relationships presented throughout the journey.

A perfect example of this is the character of Maggie, played by Laura Del Sol, who if we are to be working within the idiom of film noir, represents Frears’ idea of a femme fatale. She is not photographed in a particularly appealing way, nor is she depicted as irresistible. However, she is still a fairly great distraction to Tim Roth’s character, who prolongs Maggie’s existence by pleading with his boss to spare her. The rest of the characters don’t project the allure that their genre film counterparts are characterized by, which instead makes them seem all the more real.

Tim Roth, fresh off the success of Alan Clarke’s television production of Made in Britian, is suppose to be immature, boyish, “loose cannon” character, but slowly he becomes something with a closer resemblance to fully-fleshed out character. He’s a romantic, in a way, not a theological man like Stamp’s character, but a very isolated person all the same. It becomes very evident that this job, his first of any kind, is likely to be his last, no matter if he survives or doesn’t. His character’s violent explosions are meditated upon. When he pulls over at a desert bar, he is seemingly mocked by the locals. He pretends to shake this off, but Frears then presents a fairly long static shot of him doing nothing in particular. Even when we know the violence is coming, it is no less shocking.

Roth’s partner is crime, played by John Hurt, is the complete opposite. Though he resists his temptation to kill Maggie on several occassions, his other acts of violence are swift, cold, and almost mechanically performed. It would not be that much of a stretch to liken his character to Javier Bardem’s in No Country For Old Men. All three actors (Roth, Hurt, and Bardem that is) give a sense of realism to their otherwise melodramatic acts. It is difficult for a filmmaker to give repurcussions to violence in a way that doesn’t seem preachy, but Frears succeeds in doing just that. There’s a cold tension throughout the entire picture, perhaps evident because a majority of the violent acts (the killings in particular) are presented until their key moment, i.e. the point in which a human is murdered. Up until then, Frears’ camera is tightly fixed on his individuals. There’s no dramatizing music, but rather atmospheric pieces from flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia. His score gives a sense of place and feeling, but it never forces the audience to think or feel something specific.