Blu-ray Review: The Hit

STUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears | CAST: Terence Stamp, John Hurt, Tim Roth, Laura del Sol, Bill Hunter, Fernando Rey
RELEASE DATE: 10/20/20 | PRICE: DVD $19.99, Blu-ray $27.99
BONUSES:  Audio commentary from 2009 featuring director Stephen Frears, actors John Hurt and Tim Roth, screenwriter Peter Prince, and editor Mick Audsley; interview from 1988 with actor Terence Stamp from the television show “Parkinson One-to-One”
SPECS: NR | 98 min. | Drama | 1:78 | mono

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall 

One of those hybrid films that satisfies on a number of different levels, The Hit is both a great gangster picture and a terrific road movie. Much can be said about the brilliance of the 1984 film’s construction, but all eyes are, as they should be, on the utterly sublime trio of leads.

The plot is the pretext for the road trip. Hitman Braddock (John Hurt, Alien) and his driver Myron (Tim Roth, Meantime) are to take Mob informant Willie Parker (Terence Stamp, The Adjustment Bureau) to their boss for execution, which entails a long drive across Spain to reach the French border. On the way, Willie reveals that he is not only resigned to his date with death but is philosophical about it. Braddock is businesslike but curiously complicates matters by dragging along the girlfriend (Laura del Sol) of a fellow crook (Bill Hunter).

The film moves deftly from drama to dark comedy and then to existential fable, all the while maintaining tension about when Braddock will shoot Willie. (It’s clear that he could kill him at any time and just return to the boss with proof of the hit.)

The desolate Spanish landscapes are intoxicating, as is the flamenco score by Paco de Lucia (with a theme song consisting of Anglo-guitar by Eric Clapton with Roger Waters). But the sure hand of director Stephen Frears (My Beautiful LaunderetteTamara Drewe) aided by scripter Peter Prince allows Stamp, Hurt, and Roth to do some beautifully nuanced work.

Terence Stamp, John Hurt and Tim Roth in The Hit.

The spotlight is on Stamp, whose character is not only resigned to his fate, but is looking forward to it. Hurt incarnates the calm, quiet hitman (whose bouts of unexpected leniency  clash with other moments of raw cruelty). Roth, with a blond dye job, is the newcomer of the group, who tries to project certainty but has no idea what he’s in for.

The crisp restoration for Blu-ray highlights the pictorial beauty of the film, while two supplements included in the package offer the reflection of the participants.

A 1988 interview with Stamp on Michael Parkinson’s chat show finds the actor looking back on the time in the Seventies when he took a break from acting. The Hit receives only one cursory mention, but Stamp does offer memories about the glamour of “Swinging London” in the Sixties and his twin blessings at that time: a flourishing acting career and an affair with supermodel Jean Shrimpton.

Stamp discusses his mentor in film acting, Michael Caine, and his favorite director (Fellini), but the best story is most certainly a tale of Brando. In their only scene together in Superman, Stamp watched Brando trying to commit one line of dialogue to memory, so he could pivot around and then look at cue cards. (It took him quite a while.)

An audio commentary recorded in 2009 contains information and anecdotes from Frears, scripter Prince, film editor Mick Audsley, Hurt, and Roth. A key insight into the unusual tone of the film labels it a “good old-fashioned British movie” that is also “a European film” in its sensibility and the way in which the story is told.

Hurt reinforces the road movie element by describing it as a “travel movie” where “nobody knows where they’re going — they’re just going.”

Roth contributes the most interesting anecdotes, noting that he did the film at 22 years old and that the trip to Spain was the first time he’d been out of the U.K. He stresses that he, Stamp, and Hurt all had very different styles of acting but got along very well, and that costar Fernando Rey took him out for drinks. He also notes he wasn’t perfect for the role of Myron, as he couldn’t drive, and at one point in the filming nearly killed Hurt and Stamp when he lost control of the car.

But the biggest trivia nugget is that he was second choice for the role of Myron. It seems Joe Strummer was set to play the part, but the other members of the Clash forbade it. Joe then recommended “that skinhead actor” — Roth, who had recently starred as a bald rebel in Alan Clarke’s Made in Britain (1982).

Buy or Rent The Hit

About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”