(1984) Directed by Stephen Frears; Written by: Peter Prince; Starring: Terence Stamp, John Hurt, Tim Roth; Laura del Sol; Available on DVD
Here are three words that are seldom associated with each other: existentialist crime drama. The Hit rises above a genre that’s admittedly not my favorite, thanks in no small part to the depth of the performances by the lead actors, and the film’s contemplative nature. One might argue that this is actually a road movie, since most of the action takes place in one car or another, and we learn a little about each character during the course of their travel. Of course, in this road movie, they’re not buddies, but mortal enemies engaged in a life-or-death struggle.
Terence Stamp stars as Willie Parker, member of a notorious London crime syndicate. The film begins in the 1970s, as he testifies against several of his associates. Flash forward ten years later... He’s been hiding out in a Spanish villa, but it’s only a matter of time before his whereabouts are discovered. Soon enough, he’s abducted by a band of thugs for hire, and he’s back in arms of the London crime lords, or at least their agents. There’s no way out, as he’s whisked away in a car, bound for the French border where his execution awaits. Just because Parker is their captive, however, does not imply that he’s passive about his impending fate. He has a way with slowly getting under his captors’ skin, finding subtle methods of turning the screws a little bit tighter each time. His words have an infectious quality on those around him, as he plants seeds of doubt and watches them subsequently germinate and take root.
Braddock, played with icy conviction by John Hurt, is Parker’s designated hitman. He approaches his current assignment with a been-there, done-that sense of weariness. This particular job is just one of many. It’s only business after all, nothing personal. Braddock does his best to play the role of the cold killer, maintaining an impenetrable exterior for all to see. He’s the toughest nut to crack, but Parker still finds the gaps in his armor. As mistakes are increasingly made and plans are not going as smoothly as intended, he begins to doubt his own judgment.
Braddock’s eager apprentice Myron is played by Tim Roth, in his first theatrical role. Myron’s not exactly the brightest bulb in the hardware store, but makes up for any inadequacies with bravado. He’s full of tough talk, without much to back it up. He’s blinded by the prospect of making a quick 1,000 quid, without considering the potential pitfalls and inherently duplicitous nature of his chosen profession. Parker zeroes in on Myron’s myriad weaknesses, imploring him to question what’s going on, while implying that he’s not quite up to this business. Myron’s ensuing missteps simply add to the mounting confusion.
Laura del Sol portrays Maggie, the wild card in the deck. Her involvement is purely accidental, but she’s sucked into the situation when she finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. She’s a witness to everything that’s going on, an unintended consequence that Braddock couldn’t foresee. Now, she’s just collateral, as far as Braddock is concerned, but Maggie is more resourceful than she initially appears.
Above all, the primary reason to see The Hit is Terence Stamp’s brilliant performance as Parker. Parker is unnaturally calm about his fate, which seems to put everyone else on edge. He sees a bigger picture, however, existing on a different philosophical plane than the other characters. The last ten years were productive ones, as he fortified his mind instead of lying wait in fear of the inevitable. During the course of his impromptu education, he stumbled upon certain universal principles that put his mind at ease. When he confronts Myron with the realization that everyone dies eventually, Myron seems completely dumbstruck by this obvious truth. It’s clear that Myron has never really stopped to look beyond the here and now. Parker also points out the symmetry of life and death, and how we return to the same state of nothingness when we die, as before we were born. There is a nice scene later in the film when he’s standing amidst a rolling brook in a lush, wooded area, drinking in the serenity of the moment. Escape is not part of his plan.
The conclusion of The Hit is a bit of a letdown, considering the dialogue and tense moments between the characters. The ending suffers by comparison to the rest of the film, seeming a little standard with regard to what preceded it. Maybe this is the only way things could have gone, but I still enjoyed the ride with Parker while it lasted. If nothing else, Parker illustrated how all good things eventually come to an end.