An unpredictable, compelling journey, 'The Hit' is a classic British crime film from the 1980s with an exemplary cast.
6 Apr 2017 - 5:30 PM  UPDATED 6 Apr 2017 - 5:34 PM

It puts a compelling twist on the British crime film

The Hit has the hard glances and gleeful violence that have long percolated through British crime films, as a pair of London killers, the experienced Braddock (John Hurt) and his manic offsider Myron (a very young Tim Roth), arrive in Spin to bring an exiled informer, Willie Parker (Terence Stamp), to face reckoning. But the dusty Spanish backroads and sun-parched vistas upend expectations: instead of being scared, Willie is cheerfully philosophical about his looming fate, while his captors have to face up to mounting police pressure and a second hostage, Maggie (Laura Del Sol), with a lust for life. The heightened tone creates in turn panic, hysteria and nightmarish calm; London’s rules don’t apply.

A talented director reaching his prime

Stephen Frears had been working in British television since the early 1970s, but The Hit was just his second feature film and he plainly was chomping at the bit. His camera pans into place as characters arrive, or uses a line of armed policemen as visual punctuation. Some of the best shots are lensed from a great distance, reducing the clash of bodies and indomitable purpose to a minor occurrence, which is a reflection of Willie’s philosophical detachment. “It’s as natural as breathing,” he says of dying, and Frears – who would go on to direct Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity, The Queen, and Philomena – coolly enquires into his uneasy quartet with an eye for their varied physicality and the way they share the frame.


John Hurt leads a top cast

John Hurt, who passed in January of this year, had such a marvelous final act to his career playing rueful seers, wise mentors, and charming distractions that’s it’s easy to forget what a forceful chameleon he could be. Encased in a white suit, his hair slicked back like an ageing mod, and with black eyes that brook no questions, his Braddock – which appears to be just one of many names he uses – would have felt at home in a Jean-Pierre Melville policier. In the first half of the film he barely speaks, but for all Myron’s energy, Willie instantly knows that it’s Braddock he truly has to fear. Frears repeatedly shows the characters in silhouette, but Hurt gives that menacing, incomplete quality to his role in every scene.

It has a cold, cruel unpredictability

Even as the quartet are pursued by the local authorities – complete with the legendary Spanish actor Fernando Rey as the chief investigator, who barely has a line – due to the trail of bodies the carefully efficient Braddock leaves behind, the dynamic between the car-bound foursome keeps changing. The gung-ho Myron softens in his stance, while Maggie reveals a determination that literally draws blood. For the visiting gangsters there’s something otherworldly about Spain, and that seeps into their decisions. It’s no wonder Myron turns a quick stop at a roadside bar into a sudden brawl – “that felt good,” he says with bloodied relief, jumping back into the car.


It’s a preview of 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert'

Landmark Australian film that it was, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was not the first time Terence Stamp and the legendary Australian actor Bill Hunter were cast together. When Braddock and Myron bring Willie to a Madrid safe house, they find a criminal squatter there, expatriate Australia crook Harry, along with Maggie. Watching a videotape of an AFL game – he’s a Hawthorn fan – Harry is instantly solicitous and apologetic, realising that because he’s seen Willie, the subject of news reports, he’s in deep trouble. “Why don’t you shut up?” demands Myron. “I can’t!” Harry replies, and there’s something moving about his desperate, fearful helpfulness. Hunter always found the humanity of his character, and The Hit is no exception.


Watch 'The Hit' now at SBS On Demand:


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