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"The Hit" — (Bullz-Eye DVD Review)

May 19, 2009


I have to admit up-front that this is something of a pet movie – the kind you love all the more because not that many people have seen it. Why? Let’s start by saying it’s a superbly well-crafted, mid-‘80s blend of Brit gangster flick, suspense, heavy-duty irony, and Zen/existentialist philosophy. It’s also a remarkable agglomeration of talent on both sides of the camera, and stars three of the greatest leading men/character actors that England produced in the latter half of 20th century — two at the peak of their powers and one at the very beginning of his long film and television career. It’s also notable as the film that established the feature film career of a personal favorite, Stephen Frears, the too-versatile-for-his-own-good director behind “Sammy and Rosie Get Laid,” “The Grifters,” “Dirty Pretty Things,” “High Fidelity,” “The Queen” and many others. But forget all that, what’s really striking about “The Hit” is its subject matter. This isn’t just another thriller about criminals threatened with death; it’s an entirely entertaining parable that’s actually about death and how we humans face our own end.

Written by Frears’ then-frequent TV collaborator, novelist Peter Prince, “The Hit” opens at the Old Bailey, circa the early ‘70s. Low-rent crook Willie Parker (Terrence Stamp) turns state’s evidence on several of his criminal pals, who respond by serenading him with the sentimental World War II-era anthem, “We’ll Meet Again.” The meaning is clear enough. Ten years later, Willie, now a suave 40-something bohemian with a picture of John Lennon over his bed, is hiding out in high style on Spain’s Costa del Sol. In the course of an afternoon bike ride he metaphorically meets his old mates again through the person of the extremely deadly Mr. Braddock (John Hurt) and Myron (Tim Roth, in his first theatrical film), a glorified soccer hooligan being given his big break in the murder biz.

Saying that the assignment calls for Willie to meet with the crime boss he betrayed, Braddock chooses not to execute his victim on the spot, but to take him on a proverbial ride through Spain’s countryside with France as the ultimate destination. Allowing himself to be in a “road picture” is Braddock’s first mistake. One problem he encounters along the way is Maggie (Laura del Sol), a beautiful young ex-street urchin with a terrifying will to live. The other is the intended victim, who, after some initial resistance, seems not to be all that put out by the near-certainty of his immanent murder. Is Willie Parker merely a blissed-out intellectual, or is the Zen-like calm some kind of outrageous gambit to save his own skin? Regardless, it throws Braddock and thuggish Myron seriously off their games.



  1. Bob, sometimes I feel like you live inside my head (:– I like this film, too, and Frears is one of my favorite filmmakers (your description of him as too versatile for his own good is apt, but man, what great movies). Nice write-up!

  2. All I can say is that it’s a good thing you’re such a sports fan (I barely know a touch down from a free throw, and I have no idea what a running back does, though I imagine it involves running), otherwise I might love track of which of us is which.

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