(We here at Hammer to Nail are all about true independent cinema. But we also have to tip our hat to the great films of yesteryear that continue to inspire filmmakers and cinephiles alike. This week Brad Cook orders The Hit, the new Blu-Ray release of Stephen Frears’ anti-hitman movie. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)
I’m a baseball guy, so allow me to indulge in a metaphor here: The Hit is like a ball that splits the outfielders and enables a stand-up double. It’s not the boom of a home run into the upper deck, nor the thrill of a triple that ends with a headfirst slide into the base. Even though it’s a mob film, it’s more of a small, character-driven piece, rather than an epic story that spans generations and features a large cast of characters.
The story is fairly simple: Terence Stamp is Willie Parker, a henchman turned informant who has spent the past decade hidden away in a small Spanish village under police protection. He knows it’s only a matter of time before his former boss sends men to take him out, and that day arrives in the form of enigmatic, quiet Braddock (John Hurt) and anxious, quick-talking Myron (Tim Roth). They’ve been tasked with delivering Willie to their boss for execution.
However, the Spanish police are on their tail, and Braddock decides they need a new vehicle. He stops at the apartment of a friend, which he assumed was unoccupied, and finds an Australian named Harry with his Spanish girlfriend Maggie (Laura del Sol). Braddock orders Myron to take Maggie as insurance that Harry won’t say anything to the police and they resume their journey.
Willie, who has remained calm and cool the entire time and is shown in the beginning as an avid reader, uses the journey to play psychological tricks against Braddock and Myron, hoping to turn them against each other. He even goes so far as to quote the poet John Donne to Braddock, although he has more trouble breaking through to him than he does with Myron, who begins to feel sympathy for Maggie.
In the end, The Hit is an intriguing hybrid movie. Three of the four main characters are British, but the landscapes and music are Spanish, with an opening guitar track by Eric Clapton. Willie is not a stereotypical cement-headed gangster lackey. And Maggie is no air-headed gangster’s girlfriend: she proves herself to be resourceful and determined to survive the ordeal no matter what. The story is mostly subdued and subtle, with the only big shoot-out and chase scene coming at the end.
The Hit is also notable as Tim Roth’s second feature film, as well as the movie that kick-started director Stephen Frears’ career. I’ve also seen it described as Stamp’s first starring role in over a decade, but how does General Zod not count? (What Gen Xer sees Stamp and doesn’t think of those memorable lines from Superman II?)
This new Blu-ray from Criterion features a restored 2K digital transfer that was approved by Mike Molly, the film’s director of photography, along with a booklet that includes an essay by critic Graham Fuller. Nothing new was commissioned in the way of bonus features, however.
There are two main bonus features, a 37-minute minute interview with Stamp from 1988. It was on the British TV show Parkinson: One-to-One and it covers his career in depth. Unsurprisingly, Stamp is a charismatic, entertaining interviewee. It’s the kind of interview you don’t see much of on regular broadcast TV anymore, at least in the United States, and that’s a bummer.
The commentary track, which hails from 2009, features Frears, Hurt, Roth, screenwriter Peter Prince, and editor Mick Audsley. Frears and Prince were recorded together while the others were recorded solo, an approach that keeps a steady flow of information going and avoids the “Hey, we’re all together, so let’s reminisce and talk about what’s on the screen” pitfall that often besets group commentaries.
Frears and Prince reveal that the story actually changed during filming, resulting in a “fly by the seat of your pants” approach that worked in the end. And while editors often don’t get a lot of opportunities to talk about their craft, Audsley gets time here to discuss how he was editing while the film was being shot. If you believe that editing is filmmaking, Audsley will provide plenty of insight for you, especially in regard to how he massaged the narrative so there was plenty of ambiguity in the story.
Hurt and Roth provide the on-set anecdotes as well as look-backs on where they were in their careers at the time. Roth has some amusing stories, such as the time he almost wrecked a car, and Hurt reveals that his enigmatic character was a mystery even to Frears and Prince, so he was left to fill in what blanks he could through his performance.
– Brad Cook (@BradCWriter)