- Ravi Swami
"The Hit", Dir: Stephen Frears, 1984
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
Recommendations always help in making choices and in the case of "The Hit", directed by Stephen Frears in 1984 it came from a friend, Darren Lewey, who has been running photography tours from Morocco since 2010 that highlight the unique qualities of the peoples, cities and landscape of the region, including nearby Spain, prior to which he taught film and photography with a focus on documentary in the UK for many years, and by chance we happened to be immediate neighbours for a period of time in the early 90's.
Before launching into a review you will have noticed the poster images used to head each post and in this case I thought it would be interesting to see how different distributors in different territories choose to frame a film, something that has as much to do with the era that they were created as anything else, eg what the film is actually about, an area I have touched upon in an earlier post.
I watched the film as a Criterion release (although it is also available to rent on other streaming services) and having watched it I think that the first image in the slider is the most successful in terms of encapsulating what the film is about, since Terence Stamp's
character of "Willie Parker", a "grass" who has escaped jail in the U.K to live in Spain and is the subject of the "hit" of the title, is depicted as the target of the hit via the circular motif that also hints at the film's philosophical angle since a theme running through the superficially sordid plot is that of mortality (Stamp's / Parker's) and the fragility of life.
The following two posters emphasize the genre aspects of the film, eg through the use of the title drawn as a blood spatter, and indeed the film features some quite gruesome executions by John Hurt, as the hitman "Braddock", hired to take Parker to Paris to face the man he helped send down for 10 years, or reflect the decade in terms of film poster trends at the time, eg here they both clearly reference the iconic poster for "Trainspotting", a ploy that works by subconsciously suggesting genre - gangster films / crime etc - by association.
The last poster uses the same title font but focusses more on the charms of the actress Laura Del Sol, who plays a hostage to the two hit men, and instantly dates the film by virtue of her style of clothing and hair, but uses the time-honoured method of sex-appeal to attract audiences and totally avoiding what the film is actually about, important during the video rental era when faced with the plethora of titles that vied for attention.
Of course how a person perceives any genre film is dependent upon expectations, tastes and so on - the nuances may be totally overlooked if you just want to see a story about a hit man, with the usual elements of guns, gals and the underworld, and on that level the plot , despite being quite slight, banal and without the usual twists and turns, apart from those of the car being used by the two hitmen, delivers in those areas.
The film marked a renaissance for Terence Stamp as an actor after a period of time where he explored spirituality that ended with his role in "Superman" (1978), and it's tempting to point out the fact that his character - who is someone who has used the time away from crime to read books on philosophy to try and understand what life is all about - was written with him in mind for those reasons since it effectively lifts what could simply have been a rather sordid and violent film to another level, that of a philosophical meditation on death and the afterlife, which is referenced in the film in a scene between Stamp and Tim Roth's rookie hit-man.
The plot itself is quite simple : 10 years after appearing in court to help send down his criminal accomplices, Willie Parker is living in the wilds of Spain under police protection since he lives with the ever-present threat of reprisals once the criminal kingpin he sent down is released, so the sense that his life has a quantifiable time limit is a constant - he can never really fully enjoy the sunny rural idyll he lives in and he learns to embrace death.
When the brutal hit-man Braddock (John Hurt) turns up with Roth, they kidnap Parker in the wake of a trail of slaughter, picking up "Maggie" (Laura Del Sol) on the way after Braddock brutally kills her boyfriend, and head out across the wilds of Spain in a white Mercedes toward Paris, across the border, so that Parker can be delivered to the kingpin and likely execution. Meanwhile the police headed, by Fernando Rey as a senior policeman, are on their trail.
Although made in 1984, a decade defined in films by the music and fashions, apart from the presence of Del Sol and her hairstyle / fashion, the film has a timeless quality by virtue of the arid, near-desert landscapes of Spain, with its vast, dusty tracts of reddish soil dotted with olive trees, which in many ways is the real star of the film thanks to some terrific cinematography that often reduces the racing Mercedes to an insignificant detail as if to underline the banal and futile nature of the escapade, and a choice of film format that suggests a generous budget, something often lacking in many similar genre films destined for video rentals during the 1980's - a few scenes at the start of the film feature cars that suggest the 1970's but this would make sense since a full decade has passed by the time the "hit" takes place.
I can see why Darren would have found the film appealing given his interest in landscape photography and in particular that geographical region, which takes in Morocco, rather than the genre particularly - "The Hit" is also not a film I would have automatically gravitated towards for the same reasons but it's worth checking out for the depiction of the Spanish landscape and also the unusual philosophical angle of the plot, especially in these times where everyone is having to deal with issues around mortality due to the pandemic.
The films score is by Paco de Lucia with an opening guitar score by Eric Clapton, both of which add enormously to the ambience of the film.