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Hit, The (1984)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Hit, The (1984)
35mm, colour, 98 mins
DirectorStephen Frears
Production CompaniesZenith Productions, Central Productions, Recorded Picture Company
ProducerJeremy Thomas
ScreenplayPeter Prince
PhotographyMike Molloy
MusicPaco de Lucia

Cast: John Hurt (Braddock); Tim Roth (Myron); Laura Del Sol (Maggie); Terence Stamp (Willie Parker); Bill Hunter (Harry); Fernando Rey (Senior Policeman)

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Gangster Willie Parker is kidnapped from his Spanish villa and handed over to hitmen, Braddock and Myron, who are disturbed by Parker's apparently relaxed and philosophical attitude to his fate.

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Stephen Frears' The Hit (1984) is a road movie-cum-gangster film with a cast of doomed protagonists. Just as Willy's (Terence Stamp) fate is sealed when he turns 'supergrass', so too are Braddock (John Hurt) and Myron (Tim Roth) doomed from the moment their Spanish accomplice drops his sandal (revealed to the audience in telling close-up). His survival as a witness to their treachery is the first in a catalogue of errors that leaves a trail of evidence in its wake. The police need only join the dots and their 'investigation' is almost redundant, presented as a series of silent, black-comic vignettes. The viewer sees what the hapless hitmen cannot: the police gaining ground, the noose tightening.

This sense of inevitable doom is also underlined by the film's narrative path. Unlike the traditional road movie, where the characters' physical journey corresponds to a spiritual voyage of self-discovery, The Hit takes us on a road to nowhere and its protagonists die none the wiser. Thus, the film's opening shot is, in the chronology of the narrative, one of its last - Braddock walking up a hillside to an unmarked grave. Only when the scene is repeated toward the end of the film do we sense that this grave marks the end of the road for the three protagonists.

At first, The Hit seems a battle of competing faiths, with Braddock's vampiric force (permanently squinting in his Ray-Bans at the bright Spanish sun) meeting its match in Willy's Buddha-like composure in the face of death. "Death is just a stage in the journey," he tells a disbelieving Braddock, "as natural as breathing." But Willy's 'grace under pressure' (the Hemingway code - an analogue to religious faith in a godless world - alluded to by Willy's dog-eared copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls) turns out to be a fa├žade when he turns coward at the moment of death.

Willy's 'betrayal' is a victory for Braddock's professional hitman code: amorality and naked self-interest. But Braddock fails to practice what he has preached and dies because he shows compassion (he allows a hostage to live who then identifies him to the police). The Hit ends back where it started, with a funeral procession. It could be for Braddock, Myron or Willy. There's no distinction, no pressure and, above all, no grace.

Joe Sieder

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Video Clips
1. Mr Braddock (4:14)
2. Willie's reasons (1:37)
3. Natural as breathing (4:36)
4. It's tomorrow (1:30)
Production stills
Audsley, Mick (1949-)
Frears, Stephen (1941-)
Hurt, John (1940-)
Roth, Tim (1961-)
Stamp, Terence (1938-)
Thomas, Jeremy (1949-)