The Hit
directed by Stephen Frears
(Artisan, 1984)

Stephen Frears' 1984 entry in "enlightened gangster cinema" would probably make a nice double-bill with Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead. This is one of those rare movies that had me thinking "wow" after I'd seen it. It is more of a character study than an action film, and quite a far step from other classics in British gangster cinema.

The film opens up during a court session in the U.K., where Willie Parker (Terence Stamp), an ex-gangster, is ratting against his former group of colleagues -- all of whom begin singing menacingly Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again" before being taken away.

Ten or so years later, Willie is living comfortably in Spain under a witness protection program. On a nice, sunny day, the gangsters -- true to their words -- have arranged for him to be kidnapped by one of their number: a hardened hit man, Braddock, portrayed by John Hurt. Along with him is his rather immature (and annoying) young protege, Myron (Tim Roth in one of the very few roles I have seen that I didn't like him).

The thugs' orders are to bring Parker over to France, where the leaders are waiting to exact their vengeance on him. What Braddock and Myron weren't counting on when they kidnapped Parker, however, was that during the 10 years of living in Spain he has apparently spent a lot of time reading philosophy and becoming more spiritually enlightened. Parker accepts the fact that he's going to die, knew they were coming for him and is totally relaxed and at peace with his fate. The gangsters at first think he's bluffing, but as the film progresses they begin to take him seriously and to question themselves.

Despite having their jobs made easier by Parker's cooperativeness, things do indeed go wrong and become complicated. A policeman gets shot, along with another fellow, resulting in them taking a Spanish girl (Laura Del Sol) hostage and adding another layer of tension among the group.

All in all, I found this movie to be refreshingly different from the usual, and because of that I found it satisfying to watch. The film is not without its weak points, but I found them easy to overlook. There are good performances from the entire cast. And it is almost mesmerizing watching the internal conflict, friction and sadness between them.

This film goes beyond what you would normally expect from a gangster film, making it worth checking out.

by Stefan Abley
3 June 2006

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