The Hit (1984 UK)

It’s hard to put my finger on just what it is, exactly, that makes this film so impressive. One can hardly point to substantial character development, because the characters (with one exception) never really become true flesh and blood to us. The director knew how to combine simple, pure elements–strong, bold colours, bright sunlight, stark images, and exactly the right sounds–in ways that seem to speak of things larger than themselves. So what is it? Certainly the locations and the music, the general ambiance, add a lot to The Hit.

The car, the clouds of dust, the brilliant Spanish sun, the arc of azure sky, the arid hills, the sultry guitar: these things alone can turn a marginal film into a good one. Exterior shots predominate, and with good reason. The film deals with human interaction between a ‘grass’ from ten years back, a rookie gangster and an old-time gangster. The fact it takes a ‘road movie’ approach gives us more time to develop with the characters, as well as the characters themselves to do a bit of bonding. What follows is some fascinating dialogue between the three (and between a young Spanish girl to a lesser extent) and some very interesting relations building up. The stone cold presence from John Hurt (as Mr Braddock), the silent but ‘you know he’s up to something’ Terence Stamp and the, almost, ‘comic relief’ character in the form of Tim Roth (Myron) all combine in a truly mesmerizing mixture of events.

I was glued to the screen. Terence Stamp is Willie Parker. He doesn’t fear death because he already is dead. Is it because he has chosen to live a comfortable, but unproductive and solitary, apparently celibate life, with only a tyro minder looking after him? He spends his time reading books: anyone who does that to excess gets to thinking about life’s meaning, and pondering on death, and what it is like to die. Willie reckons he has solved the riddle. ‘The Hit’ takes the audience by surprise by easing up on the blood-letting and instead engaging in a lot of dialogue which reveals the kidnappee’s desire not to be eliminated, trying to prolong what little time he may have left on the earth. There is much philosophical discussion on the part of the kidnapped man, concerning the meaning of life and death, in order to buy time for himself. And to allow the audience to ruminate about the meaning of life along with him.

It’s a good existential take on the usual modus operandi of these films which normally consist of little more than meaningless action and violence to get the punters to pay for admission. The real surprise is the girl, Laura del Sol. Her obvious physical charms, barely stuffed into a very small dress, lead the viewer (the pop-eyed male viewer, anyway) into writing her off as mere eye candy, until the confrontation between her and Hurt.  The cruel, angry glow in her eyes bringing it home that here perhaps is the fiery centre of the circle. It is she alone who stands out, at the end of the story, as someone we can recognize and identify with. Someone who isn’t a mere cypher. She becomes the personification of the will to live in this masculine world. The Hit is a cruel and desperate film to watch but the patient viewer will be rewarded.

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