' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: The Hit (1984)

Friday, September 10, 2021

Friday's Old Fashioned: The Hit (1984)

“The Hit” (1984), like most road movies, is in no particular hurry. But then, this isn’t a movie about a estranged friends from high school road-tripping to their reunion, or a weary person driving west in America to reinvigorate his or her soul. “The Hit”, as the title implies, is about two hitmen, Braddock (John Hurt) and Myron (Tim Roth) transporting a one-time London gangster, Willie Parker (Terrence Stamp), from his Spanish hideout to Paris where his imminent execution awaits. Along the way, circumstances force the two hitmen to take an additional prisoner, Maggie (Laura del Sol), who will do anything to survive. Yet director Stephen Frears never really exploits this inherent tension, opting for a chilled out, contemplative vibe, evoked in the flamenco score by Paco de Lucia, weirdly if wonderfully rendering an ostensibly suspenseful situation as more of an eerily mystical one. When the Spanish youths dispatched by Braddock to get Parker corner the gangster on his Spanish villa’s roof, it is not so much Ebert’s Climbing Killer Syndrome come to life as it is Parker deliberately taking a moment for one last look.

The movie opens in the past, with Parker testifying against his criminal cohorts in court, who serenade him – “Until we meet again” – as they are led out of the courtroom. If it demonstrates “The Hit’s” macabre humor, it also lets Parker know he’s a marked man, no matter what, and as we glean in the ensuing car ride across the ever-changing European landscape, he did not spend those years frittering away his time but philosophically preparing himself for just moment. True, he quotes John Donne, but Stamp’s indelibly pacific air embodies his character’s enlightenment all on its own, his big, piercing white eyes balanced against that epic canvas of his face, looking like a man who has seen things you people wouldn’t believe.

Parker needles Braddock and Myron, sort of pitting them against one another, putting ideas in their heads, or at least in the youthful Myron’s, even if sometimes Myron comes across perplexed by his charge’s pontifications, brought to hysterical life in Roth’s slack-jawed expressions. This suggests Parker as a drier, more, well, British version of Charles Grodin in “Midnight Run.” At the same time, though, Parker does not necessarily come across desperate to escape. In one sequence, when Braddock leaves Myron in charge, the kid falls asleep, providing a perfect avenue for Parker to flee. Instead, Braddock finds Parker admiring a waterfall where the way Hurt points his gun at Parker seems born more out of palpable confusion, like Parker has ascended to some metaphysical plain these puny bullets will never reach. And Parker’s stillness is contrasted against the desperation of Maggie. She is the Spanish girlfriend of an Australian man, Harry (Bill Hunter), who are occupying an apartment Braddock mistakenly believes empty. Braddock offs the man but takes Maggie prisoner as del Sol gives a virtually silent, animalistic performance, as if gnawing through her own leg to escape a trap.

If Myron begins as an obedient underling to Braddock, he sympathizes with Maggie as the movie goes along, only too willing to be prodded in that direction by Parker, going whatever way the wind in his ear advises. A sequence in which Myron attacks some Spaniards harassing him at a roadside bar isn’t just “The Hit” killing time, it is evocative of how “The Hit” uses seeming throwaway scenes to reveal character, Myron’s innate youthful recklessness finally burbling to the top. The way Roth happily slumps in the backseat after making off with a few free beers suggests this is the moment when Myron is most himself. Hurt, on the other hand, keeps Braddock a closed book, nigh impossible to read. He’s all too willing to shoot an innocent gas station attendant when it becomes necessary, yet never does the same to Maggie even as it becomes pointless to keep her alive, Hurt’s lips curling into a mischievous grin as the two eye each other, the close-ups between Hurt and del Sol portray an emotional game of cat and mouse entirely independent of the others, almost like to him it’s some sort of game. 

Before Braddock kills Harry, he allows the Australian man a moment of peace, watching his favorite soccer team on the tube. If it imbues both the scene and Braddock with a surprising humanity, it also foreshadows “The Hit’s” denouement, in which Frears proves less interested in some traditional big narrative twist than finally, once and for all, seeing how these men react to death when it is truly staring them in the face. For Parker, his preternatural calm falls by the wayside when all of a sudden Braddock announces that Parker’s time is up. “That’s not the job,” Parker says, Stamp’s voice shading from indignation into desperation. “The job ends in Paris.” It is gut-wrenching and gut-wrenchingly comical to watch, the mask of stoicism ripped away, suggesting that no matter how ready we might presume ourselves to be, we never ever are. Then again, Braddock’s death seems to suggest something else. Frustratingly, it’s the sole moment in the whole movie when Frears lays his aesthetic on too thick, cuing up one of Parker’s earlier musings in voiceover to tell us Braddock’s eyes closing already do, that maybe death, even for a baaaaaaad man such as this, is nothing more than a flame extinguishing forevermore. 

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