Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Hit (1984)

Death, power, deception. They're all the subjects of Stephen Frears' "The Hit," and they all have their time in the spotlight. From the opening scene, "The Hit" seems to have all the workings of a great movie. So why is it merely a good one?

   Surely not the actors, who have talent written all over them: Terrance Stamp, John Hurt, Tim Roth in his pre-"Reservoir Dogs" days. Surely not the setting of steamy Spain, which has the feel and intensity of a wild, dangerous place.

   Maybe the problem lies in the lack of immediacy in the story. Nothing happens in much of a hurry, and the pace has the feel of a window shopper, just there to browse, for as long as it takes. Even the Salsa-flavored score of the film doesn't scream danger.

   Willie Parker (Terence Stamp) is a former gangster who has settled down in a Spanish village after serving as an informant to the coppers. His relaxed life screeches to a halt when two hit-men, vicious Mitch (John Hurt) and wet-behind-the-ears trainee Myron (Tim Roth) take him captive, with the intent of driving over to France and then, you know, wasting his ass.

   The characters are well-realized from the start -- Willie is calm and uncannily reasonable, while Myron is hyperactive and impulsive. On the other hand, Mitch is a stone-cold, efficient killer, seasoned by many years of watching men die.

On their odd road trip comes a fourth party, Maggie, (Laura de Sol), an unwilling participant in the mayhem with a few secrets of her own. The movie is more interested in the psychology and power tactics of these people then getting anywhere. It's unusual, but if you can ease into it it's moderately enjoyable.

   Control... control asserted against other people, imagined control against inevitable death... is a big theme in this movie. In one scene, Maggie bites Mitch, who, despite his obvious pain, refuses to withdraw his hand from her mouth. Why? He's afraid to show weakness; to him, admitting to pain is a sign of weakness. But even Mitch cannot stand strong in the face of death.

   "The Hit" is an interesting movie, but I just wasn't all that into it. It's a different kind of hit man film, one that abstains from focusing on violence and action. It might be delightful for a certain taste. It's definitely worth watching once, if only to see how a gangster-road trip combo would be devised. Not great, but intriguing.


  1. I am trying to remember if I have seen this movie, but I do not think I have. It sounds interesting. I admit I tend to prefer movies like this to move quickly, but I like the idea of the film just the same.

  2. Beautiful review, Sarah! You explored a few of the same things I touched on in my review, but yours is better. Like you, I felt this had all the ingredients of a solid movie, but I just didn't fall in love with it. I like the fact that you explored possible reasons for your reactions. I also *love* the way you described the central theme here. Excellent post all around.


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