Directed by Stephen Frears
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 98 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: April 28, 2009
Review Date: April 17, 2009
An eccentric tale of hitmen floundering on an important job makes Stephen Frears’ The Hit something of a paradox. It’s not quite a suspense thriller in the traditional sense of the term, but there are certainly moments of suspense. There’s a wry British sense of the absurd about the saga as well as a somewhat confusing Christ-like symbolic character encroaching on the story. All in all, it’s mixed bag that’s great in spots and irritating in others. The director’s unquestioned skill and a fine cast of actors playing this motley crew give the film some distinction.
After testifying against his criminal cronies in an English trial in which the guilty parties vow to meet up with him again, Willie Parker (Terrence Stamp) hides out in Spain for ten years before two hitmen, Mr. Braddock (John Hurt) and his young apprentice Myron (Tim Roth), track him down and capture him. On the way back to Paris, Braddock for some reason hesitates in carrying out the hit. Things become more complicated with the addition of a female hostage (Laura del Sol) who catches Myron’s eye and with Willie’s sly psychological toying with the minds of both his captors. What seemed such an easy job now becomes incredibly difficult for the experienced Braddock.
Peter Prince’s script for the film doesn’t do a first-rate job in fleshing out the psychological underpinnings of Braddock’s character. Why does this seemingly professional and experienced hitman bungle time and again his primary mission? Sure, the inexperienced, dunderheaded Myron is something of a liability, giving away too much of the game and allowing both Willie and Maggie to get somewhat of an upper hand in their cat-and-mouse strategizing to stay alive, but one would think simple frustration would eventually make Braddock act long before he does so. Willie’s philosophical acceptance of his fate is disconcerting, too, though his symbolic Christ-like influence (dressed all in white and silently smiling oftentimes) is rather too obvious for a sophisticated director like Stephen Frears. On the other hand, his wry, dry handling of these four individuals brings to mind other future films where conflicted characters often find themselves involved in circumstances that are dragging them down: Dangerous Liaisons and Prick Up Your Ears which Frears deals with in much the same way, with some of the same tonal qualities that he uses in The Hit.
Tim Roth has the showiest of the principal roles, an overly eager but incompetent young tough trying to learn the business but letting emotions get in the way of keeping a low profile and approaching the job dispassionately. Terrence Stamp makes a very strong impression by doing minimal things with his voice and body, a case study in less-is-more acting. John Hurt’s character is hurt by the undernourished writing, but the actor does bring a steely tension to his unpredictable hitman. Laura del Sol makes the most of her appearance as a reluctant but unafraid hostage. In much smaller roles, Fernando Rey as a policeman tracking the fleeing quartet and Jim Broadbent as Willie’s barrister in the opening trial sequence make notable appearances.
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. The image often appears dated and is never especially sharp except in some close-ups. Color resolution is only fair, but the image is devoid of dirt and debris, and there is no irritating edge enhancement. The film has been divided into 13 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 track is typical for its era, and apart from some slight distortion in the upper reaches of the Eric Clapton title music in the early going, the audio is solid. Paco de Lucia’s flamenco guitar riffs come through nicely in the track adding greatly to the effectiveness of the Spanish setting.
An audio commentary combines the comments of director Stephen Frears and writer Peter Prince, actors John Hurt and Tim Roth, and film editor Mick Audsley into one complete track. It’s an interesting listen with all of the participants offering anecdotes about the casting, filming, and editing process that add much to one’s enjoyment of the movie.
A 1988 TV interview with Terrence Stamp doesn’t do more than mention The Hit in passing, but it’s an entertaining 37 minutes with Stamp (there to publicize Wall Street and his autobiography) describing his peak career years in the 1960s and his return to filmmaking full time in the 1980s. It’s presented in 4:3.
The original theatrical trailer gives the impression of the film being more of an action thriller than it actually is. Presented in 4:3, the trailer lasts 3 minutes.
The enclosed 14-page booklet contains some color stills, a cast and crew list, and an article in praise of director Stephen Frears’ career and The Hit in particular by film essayist Graham Fuller.
Not the suspense thriller one might be expecting with a name like The Hit, Stephen Fears’ psychological mind game teaser fits beautifully among his other films of the 1980s and is recommended for admirers of the director who might not have been able to catch this lesser known of his works from that period.