Criterion Review: THE HIT

Stephen Frears brings together Terence Stamp, Tim Roth, and William Hurt in this British gangster flick


Terence Stamp is Willie, a gangster’s henchman turned “supergrass” (informer) trying to hide out peacefully in a remote Spanish village. Sun-dappled bliss turns to nerve-racking suspense, however, when two hit men — one soulless (John Hurt) and one a loose cannon (a youthful Tim Roth) — come calling to bring Willie back for execution. This stylish early gem from Stephen Frears boasts terrific hard-boiled performances from a roster of England’s best actors, music by Eric Clapton and virtuoso flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía, and ravishing photography of its desolate Spanish locations — a splendid backdrop for a rather sordid story.

Stamp is Willie Parker (Terrance Stamp), a former gangster who has absconded to Spain under a new identity after snitching on his crew. Braddock (John Hurt), and Myron (Tim Roth) are a pair of hitmen, sent to dole out some gang justice by Willie’s former boss. Recruiting some local muscle, they find Willie, eliminate his bodyguard, and begin their roadtrip too deliver him to the the boss in Paris.Things do not go as smoothly as expected, obstacles en route, Braddock and Myron’s sense of unease in unfamiliar surroundings is exploited by the calm and collected Parker. Matters are further complicated by the addition of an odd young woman named Maggie (Laura del Sol) to their number, and a Spanish detective (Fernando Rey) tracking them via the bodies and damage left in their wake.

The Hit is an moody flick, with a motley crew of characters forced together, where the friction is palpable, with frustrations and fears running high. Tim Roth’s Myron is an edgy livewire, a contract to the quiet menace exuded by Hurt’s Braddock. The rather zen attitude shown by Willie (the cool as you like Stamp), sits him at the center of a growing storm. A man more at ease in the Spanish surroundings than these two men who have forced their way in. He attempts to play the hit men off one another, shifting moods and allegiances as more unpredictable, and often violent elements, start to factor into their journey too. Director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liasons, High Fidelity)uses the talents of these men expertly, deftly unfolding a narrative while playing with tone.

Camera positioning and movement adds detail or emphasis to characters and plot, tracking shots add to immersion, while wide-angle lenses offer a shift into more emotionally detached moments. This work combines with the talents of cinematographer Mike Molloy to showcase Spain with a rather sumptuous and distinct aesthetic. The atmosphere further enhanced thanks to a vibrant score from Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucia, which picks up from the beguiling opening theme, a collaboration between Eric Clapton and Roger Waters.

The Package

Criterion present a new 2K digital transfer and restoration, overseen by director of photography Mike Molloy. Colors are natural but strong, detail and depth of image also impress. Spain is given a rather glowing representation, with a aesthetic that layers in nice texture, grit, and grain. Extra features are:

  • Audio commentary from 2009 featuring director Stephen Frears, actors John Hurt and Tim Roth, screenwriter Peter Prince, and editor Mick Audsley: Things kick off with a discussion of the conception of the film, production stories, character development, etc. The best aspect of this is the presence of Audsley, who drags the conversation into more interesting realms involving filming, set pieces, cinematography, and editing (duh)
  • Interview from 1988 with actor Terence Stamp from the television show Parkinson One-to-One: A career retrospective that is both personal and pretty packed with info. Refreshing to see a interview like this with a runtime close to 40 minutes
  • Trailer:
  • PLUS: An essay by film critic Graham Fuller: Housed in the accompanying liner booklet, which also provides details on the restoration undertaken for this release

The Bottom Line

The Hit is a flex from Frears, who uses the Spanish setting, and British tone to build a cool and compelling crime flick. A myriad of memorable performances from some legendary British actors help in crafting a methodical exercise in manipulation and betrayal. Another superb release from Criterion.

The Hit is available via Criterion from October 20th

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