Watched Mar 11, 2012
Mitchell Beaupre’s review:
A prime example of the old adage that less is more, Stephen Frears' The Hit starts off with a simple premise and builds from there with the use of well-developed, brilliantly acted characters. Willie Parker (Terence Stamp) is a gangster who sells his pals down the road in order to get off free, but ten years later one of those guys is out of prison and sends his men Braddock and Myron (John Hurt and Tim Roth) to go and collect Willie. All of this is taken care of within the first fifteen minutes and the film at large is the three of them on the road, driving from Spain to Paris in order to bring Willie to his inevitable fate. They're joined along the way by Maggie (Laura Del Sol), a young and exotic companion of an associate they cross paths with early on.
It's a very simple idea, but the film succeeds so admirably in keeping the tension high between the three men, confining the action mostly to within the car or nearby it. Willie knows his fate and he doesn't try to escape it, so instead of the usual distractions of chases and struggles, we get to witness interactions between the three on their way to his fate. There's an existentialist journey the film takes us down, as Willie seems resigned to his death and doesn't try to fight it. This presents an interesting query to Braddock and especially Myron, curious as to why he seems so serene with death around the corner. Willie seems to enjoy himself on their trip, whereas Braddock is all business and just going about his job.
John Hurt delivers a terrifying performance here, mostly hidden behind Braddock's sunglasses and really diving in to the character to send chills through the audience. The contrast between him and Stamp's self-reflective work is fascinating, especially when combined with the wildly energetic Roth. This was Tim Roth's first film and he explodes on the screen, a wild animal of pure energy, eating up every moment and running away with the entire picture. Much like Roth himself, Myron is on his first assignment and his reactions to the opposing nature of Braddock and Willie drive a lot of the resonating themes of the film. Del Sol provides an erotic, passionate rift in the group dynamic and of course it's the woman who ends up being the thing that gives them the most grief, rather than the man they are supposed to kill.
Stephen Frears has long been a favorite director of mine and most of that is due to his versatility. He can go from this kind of hard, cool British pulp gangster movie to doing a wildly erotic period piece like Dangerous Liaisons as if it was any other job. He's one of the most diverse directors in the modern age, but he always manages to tackle his films with a deep precision. The Hit is yet another example of his skills as a director and, thanks in part to the excellent cast and script by Peter Prince, I'd say it's the best film of his career.