BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE HIT

By • Jul 13th, 2009 •

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When THE SOPRANOS was on TV, my favorite episodes always seemed to differ from other peoples. At times the show would get existential, and focus more on psychology rather than the killings. For instance, my favorite episode will always be when the two mobsters get stuck in the snow. I also loved, in the final season, the chance to step inside Tony’s coma-induced dreams. Everyone I spoke to at the time despised this, feeling it was just “filler”. Whether you are a SOPRANOS fan or not is irrelevant to this review. What is relevant is that in the personal opinion of this reviewer, the exploration of how these hitmen think can sometimes be more interesting than “whacking” a guy because he’s a “rat”.

In 1984, Stephen Frear’s THE HIT was met with unenthusiastic reviews and horrible box office stats. In plain English, it bombed. This probably had to do with the disregard for genre conventions, just like those SOPRANOS episodes.

The British gangster sub-genre has recently been revived thanks to films like SEXY BEAST, LAYER CAKE and the Guy Ritchie movies. All of these films are action packed, and most of them (minus the last couple of Ritchie films) got generally good reviews. This makes me curious as to how THE HIT will be received all these 25 years later.

Essentially, the movie is about a “rat”, and about the “whacking” of a “rat”, but it’s the film’s middle that sets it apart from the others. Terence Stamp plays Willie, a gangster who becomes an informer, and retreats to a small Spanish village to spend the rest of his life in peace. Ten years pass, and he is captured by two hit men. One is cold and brooding (John Hurt), and the other young and ill-tempered (Tim Roth). Sure, we’ve seen this before. The story then becomes a road-movie as they drive Willie to his execution. Along the way they pick up Maggie (Laura Del Sol), the girlfriend of an Australian gangster, and take her with them against her will. She doesn’t speak English, instead she becomes a silent witness to their road-trip, after they prove unable to kill her. The movie then focuses on Willie’s relationships with his captors. They discuss life and death and we are not quite sure whether he is really as prepared as he says he is, or if his intention is to mock the gangsters. Whatever the intention may be, it is clear that Willie is smarter and more stable than the others, and they too know this. The police eventually trail the mobsters, but this doesn’t really matter. Frears cares much more about the clashing of his characters mentalities and life-views than he does about plot turns.

The Criterion Collection released this disk, so there really isn’t much to say that you haven’t come to expect. The transfer is beautiful and they gathered everyone except Stamp together for a commentary. Instead there is an interview with him from the television show PARKINSON ONE-TO-ONE, which was filmed in 1988.

Besides going against the grain of genre conventions, THE HIT should be watched by everybody for its stellar ensemble performances. Every single actor in the film does a standout job. I always think Terence Stamp is good, but this is the best I’ve seen him. The music (by Eric Clapton and Paco De Lucia) is also excellent.

THE HIT worked for me, now let’s see if I’m in the minority again.

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