Friday, May 8, 2009

DVD of the Week: The Hit: Criterion Collection

The Hit (1984) is a significant film for several reasons: it served as a comeback, of sorts, for actor Terence Stamp, it provided a young, up-and-coming Tim Roth with his first major film role, and it was the beginning of a great run of films for director Stephen Frears. The Hit is also one of the best, stylish crime thrillers to come out of the 1980s along with Thief (1981), To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), Mona Lisa (1986), and a few others.

Right from the get-go, Frears’ film announces its ultra cool credentials with a pulsating, guitar-driven song by Eric Clapton played over the opening credits. Willie Parker (Terence Stamp) is a gangster’s henchman who testifies against his boss in court and then goes into hiding in a remote Spanish village for ten years. His seemingly idyllic existence comes to an abrupt halt one day when he’s kidnapped by two hitmen – Braddock (John Hurt), a no-nonsense killer, and his apprentice Myron (Tim Roth), a wild, impulsive young man. They intend to bring Willie to Paris to be executed, but, of course, it isn’t going to be that easy. Oddly enough, Willie doesn’t seem to be all that scared or concerned, much to the consternation of Myron, while Braddock is an unreadable blank slate. The rest of the film plays out a fascinating battle wills between these three men as Willie attempts to play Myron and Braddock off each other.

While appearances in Hollywood blockbusters Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) marked Terence Stamp’s return to the mainstream, The Hit gave him a much more substantial role to sink his teeth into. For someone on his way to be executed, Willie plays things surprisingly calm and cool. In fact, he almost acts like a genial host and this unnerves the inexperienced Myron. Stamp plays it just right, not too broad but you can see what his character is doing: biding his time until the right opportunity presents itself.

The always reliable John Hurt is excellent as the stone cold killer of few words. It’s a superbly minimalist performance and he conveys so much through simple gestures or a look. Braddock is the epitome of ruthlessly efficiency but over the course of the film, tiny cracks in his facade begin to show. Tim Roth exudes a youthful energy that is exciting to watch. Myron is everything that Braddock is not and this creates an intriguing tension between them that Willie tries to exploit. Roth is full of nervous energy and plays a character that has a lot to learn if he wasn’t so damn impatient and out for a few kicks, but he’s got a conscience which is more than you can say for Braddock.

The Hit was not a commercial success and the next year Frears had a breakout hit with My Beautiful Laundrette (1985). Stamp had a small but memorable role in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987) but didn’t have another meaty role like Willie until The Limey (1999). Roth’s career gradually took off but he didn’t really make his mark in America until Reservoir Dogs in 1992. Despite its minimal impact at the time, The Hit’s legacy was established and its influence is felt in contemporary British gangster films like Sexy Beast (2000), Gangster No. 1 (2000), and In Bruges (2008).

Special Features:

There is an audio commentary by director Stephen Frears, actors John Hurt and Tim Roth, writer Peter Prince, and editor Mick Audsley. Audsley says that his first edit of the film focused on Willie but Frears suggested that he take another shot at it and shift the focus to Braddock. He points out that the shot of Braddock during the opening credits signifies the emphasis on Braddock. Frears and Prince talk about the film’s origins and how it was inspired by actual events. Roth tells some entertaining anecdotes, including how he learned to drive a car during the course of the film. Hurt offers his observations of working with Roth and how he became involved in the project. This a solid track that is typical of you would expect from a Criterion DVD release.

“Parkinson One-to-One: Terence Stamp” features an interview with the actor in 1988 by popular British talk show host Michael Parkinson. Stamp talks about the lull in his career after the 1960s and how he was lured back to work on the Superman films because of the chance to act opposite Marlon Brando. Stamp speaks very eloquently and thoughtfully about acting and his life, while telling some fantastic stories.

Also included is a theatrical trailer.


  1. I've been hot to see this again for quite a while so I'm thrilled by the quality DVD release. I always loved the "We'll meet again..." bit.

  2. Great stuff J.D.
    I am glad this is finally out and I can't wait to give it a look...

  3. Thanks for stopping by, guys! I had never seen this film before and enjoyed it immensely. It was great to see two acting heavyweights like John Hurt and Terence Stamp face off against each other. And Tim Roth was excellent too.

  4. I've never seen this one. I am a big Stamp fan. I'll definitely have to check this one out.

  5. If you can, definitely check this one out, Keith. It's a gem of a film.

  6. I finally got this from NetFlix, and thanks for reviewing it- I'd never heard of it, and I love crime films of this type. It's just fantastic, one of John Hurt's best roles, really. The whole trio is just perfect.