Starring: John Hurt, Terence Stamp, Tim Roth, Laura Del Sol
Do you ever read about a film, see its poster, see its DVD cover, like the time period it was made and set, like the genre, like the director, like the actors, like the plot premise, and then hope that it lives up to what you think it is? Well, I did for this movie, and ... it did! It was everything I expected it to be -- and I mean that in the best way possible. There's nothing worse (in the film world) than seeing a trailer, or watching a clip of a movie, or even just reading about it, and getting very excited and then are promptly let down! That to me is very deflating. There is that old saying "don't meet your heroes" -- lest you be disappointed. But yes, to put it simply, THE HIT was great and I loved it.
Terence Stamp is Willie, an ex-criminal who, ten years after turning informer on his old crime partners, is living a simple but happy life in rural Spain. One day he is kidnapped and handed over to two hit men who have to come finish the job on him for his betrayal. Expecting that this would one day happen, Willie has an enlightened view on his mortality. This perplexes the young and rambunctious Myron (Tim Roth), and intrigues his boss, the cold career hit man Braddock (John Hurt). The three of them set off for France to bring Willie to meet his old partners -- and his maker.
It is a beautiful and stylish road film where the three men -- plus an attractive young Spanish woman they bring along with them -- get to know one another, and test each others limits. The hit men cannot understand Willie's perspective, and his cool attitude about his approaching execution. He doesn't flee when he has a chance, and he makes no attempt to steal their weapons. He is calm, collected, and composed. The naive Myron is a loose cannon; he likes women, beer, and violence. The experienced Braddock is weary; he has done this too many times. You can see on his face that he has seen a lot of death. You can also see his envy -- and admiration -- of Willie's enlightenment.
The cinematography is gorgeous. The barren Spanish countryside is a perfect setting for such a destitute group of people to travel through. Like our characters, we often see the car from an extreme distance, very impersonally and isolated. Just a small white vehicle tracing a line across the landscape, creating a tail of dust to be blown away in the wind.
Frears' actors are cast perfectly. Terence Stamp is perfect as Willie; his slightly mischievous face hints that he might have a secret plan of some sort, but it is also a worldly face, of someone whose intelligence goes much deeper than he lets on. John Hurt is also perfectly suited for Braddock. His creased face (even when he was young he looked old), and slightly sad eyes (often covered by sunglasses) belie a regretful resignation that this is all his life is, one filled with violence and death. And Tim Roth -- a very young Tim Roth -- works amazingly as a wild young man with bleached hair and without a care in the world aside from his pistol, his next beer, and getting his thousand pounds at the end of the job.
If you think you might like this film, you probably will. I'm creating a list of my favorite crime films from the 1970s and 1980s and this definitely sits near the top of that list. Frears is an accomplished and skilled director. He knows how to use style in an effective way that doesn't draw too much attention to itself, but enough that it informs the subject matter and characters. Well recommended!
Criterion has a gorgeous DVD of it out now (also a clip after the jump). I borrowed mine from the local library (I requested it over a year ago!). I'm hoping Criterion will put out a Blu-ray of it some time too.