Sunday, August 1, 2010

#469: The Hit

(Stephen Frears, 1984)

The Hit represents a prime example of one of the most challenging subgenres in filmmaking, the literate gangster pic. While gangster movies occasionally reach for deeper meaning and greatness (cough cough, The Godfather), it's a rare movie that attempts to alter the usual surface motivations and contemplations of its law-flouting pro- and antagonists and almost flaunt the genres conventions for the sake of a deeper philosophical meaning. Terence Stamp was actually in more than a few of them, most notably Soderbergh's The Limey in 1999, which even used footage of Stamp from an earlier gangster film as flashback footage. He's just as good here, twenty-five years earlier, playing a thoughtful and complex stool-pigeon on his way to payback and gangster justice. Tim Roth is so young in the film I didn't recognize him until halfway through, but now I know why Tarantino made him his half-dead cop in Reservoir Dogs eight years later - he certainly saw this picture and knew.

I respect this slant far more than I enjoy it, so The Hit didn't excite me the way I had hoped it would. I was especially hopeful since the film was directed by Stephen Frears, who has made some of my favorite movies of the past 25 years, including Dangerous Liasons, High Fidelity, The Queen, and especially The Grifters, which I consider one of the best films of the 90s. This film was made a year before he would have his big breakthrough with My Beautiful Laundrette, and it's not surprising that it took another go round to get Frears widespread attention. The Hit is a deeply philosophical, almost daringly dry film years before that sort of thing became a standard in indie filmdom (in fact, the same producer later made the overrated Sexy Beast, which had a remarkably similar plot). It's also almost mockingly devoid of plot, and skips through its running time on existential energy alone. The final twist of Stamp's personality, combined with the dark ending for pretty much everyone involved, makes the movie more fascinating on an intellectual perspective, but hardly any more appealing to watch. In fact, before that final shoot out, it doesn't seem like anyone much cares about what's happening in the film other than the woman they drag along.

I would love to read more intensive explorations of the film and its characters, but that doesn't necessarily mean I enjoyed watching it. The Hit is a well-made movie, and a thoughtful one, but it isn't especially fun to watch.

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