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Stephen Frears
Terence Stamp, John Hurt, Tim Roth, Laura del Sol, Bill Hunter, Fernando Rey, Jim Broadbent
Writing Credits:
Peter Prince

Willie Parker grassed ... Ten years later they came for their revenge.

Terence Stamp is Willie, a gangster’s henchman turned “supergrass” (informer) trying to live in peaceful hiding in a remote Spanish village. Sun-dappled bliss turns to nerve-racking suspense, however, when two hit men—played by a soulless John Hurt and a youthful, loose-cannon Tim Roth—come a-calling to bring Willie back for execution. This stylish early gem from Stephen Frears boasts terrific performances from a roster of England’s best hard-boiled 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.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$8.211 thousand on 1 screen.
Domestic Gross
$872.484 thousand.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.78:1/16X9
English Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 98 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 4/28/2009

• Audio Commentary with Director Stephen Frears, Actors John Hurt and Tim Roth, Writer Peter Prince and Editor Mick Audsley
Parkinson One-to-One 1988 Interview with Terence Stamp
• Theatrical Trailer

• 16-Page Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

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The Hit: Criterion Collection (1984)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 15, 2009)

For a look at the early big-screen career of Oscar-nominated director Stephen Frears, we head to 1984’s The Hit. Former gangster’s assistant Willie Parker (Terence Stamp) decides to turn informer and his former boss and compatriots. Led by former boss Corrigan (Lennie Peters), they swear their revenge on Willie.

Which apparently takes awhile, as we leap ahead 10 years to find Willie tanned and relaxed in an obscure Spanish town. Nonetheless, “gangster’s justice” does follow, as two hitmen named Braddock (John Hurt) and Myron (Tim Roth) track Willie at his Spanish home. They abduct him to transport to a newly free Corrigan and his demise.

Willie goes along with all of his abductors’ machinations with odd good cheer, a factor that seems to unnerve them. Their work unravels as they head toward France, especially after they take in a fiery Spanish babe named Maggie (Laura Del Sol).

In a film full of solid performances, Stamp’s Willie stands out as the best. He makes Willie an enigma to us, and we never quite figure out the character. From our initial glimpse of Willie in court, he comes across as something of a simpleton, and that impression never really leaves us. However, as he seems to manipulate Braddock and Myron, we begin to wonder if there’s more happening beneath the hood.

And we’ll continue to wonder about and debate that subject, for Stamp never tips his hand. What we can perceive as clever manipulation could also simply be the honest statements of a naïve Forrest Gump-style personality. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between those poles, but we never fully grasp Willie’s nature.

I love the nearly perky way in which Stamp plays Willie. I’m grown accustomed to Stamp in rather cold, glowering parts such as Superman II’s Zod or the cult leader in Yes Man. He doesn’t seem to often play characters as feckless and likable as Willie, and he does so in a really charming, disarming manner. We expect Willie to be the hard-bitten former gangster, not some chipper philosopher who seems to accept his fate. Stamp makes the role the centerpiece of the film and he does wonders in the part.

The other characters hew more closely to what we normally expect, though I don’t see that as a bad thing. Hurt still manages to imbue introspection to his role as the jaded assassin, and Roth does a nice twist on the cocky hotheaded apprentice. Actually, I initially thought that Roth would be too over the top and obvious, but he shows deeper layers as the movie progresses. One gets the sense that the early Myron offers the vicious badass the character wants to be, but the later Myron presents the naïve child he really is.

The Hit comes with a rather slight plot, so if you want to criticize it, that’s your best opportunity. I won’t malign it for its rudimentary story, though, as I don’t think it needs to tale a tale more complicated than this. It’s a character piece and not something driven by plot machinations. Any attempts to graft on deeper intrigue would feel out of place.

Those elements would also rob The Hit of its inherent charm. Introspective and philosophical enough to spark thought and discussion, the film avoids pretentious trappings. It ends up as an intelligent piece that provokes discussion but doesn’t patronize.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

The Hit appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For the most part, the transfer looked quite good.

Really, the only area that suffered from problems related to sharpness. Though much of the film offered positive clarity and delineation, more than a few shots looked a bit soft. These weren’t in the majority, but they appeared more often than I’d like. No signs of jaggies or moiré effects occurred, and I also witnessed no edge enhancement. Source flaws remained minor; aside from a speck here and there, this was a pleasantly clean presentation.

With its Spanish setting, the palette went for a light, sun-dappled look. The colors probably could’ve been a little brighter, but then they wouldn’t have suited the story very well. As it stood, the tones seemed well-rendered within the production design. Blacks came across as dark and deep, while shadows were clear and smooth. Except for the moderate softness, I felt pleased with this transfer.

Nothing about the monaural soundtrack impressed, but it worked just fine given its inherent limitations. The only negative associated with speech came from a few awkwardly looped lines. Dialogue quality was always solid, however, as the material appeared concise and crisp. Effects showed nice clarity and accuracy, and the score provided good range and depth. For a 25-year-old mono mix, the audio satisfied.

When we check out the set’s extras, we launch with an audio commentary from director Stephen Frears, actors John Hurt and Tim Roth, writer Peter Prince and editor Mick Audsley. Frears and Prince chat together, while the others sit solo for their segments. We learn about cast and performances, shooting in Spain, story and characters, influences, and other production elements.

Probably the most interesting aspects of the commentary come from the anecdotes. In particular, Roth offers some fun stories from the shoot, and the others chime in with interesting notes as well. The track moves well and provides a solid look at the film.

Next comes a TV program called Parkinson One-to-One. Conducted by host Michael Parkinson, this 1988 interview with actor Terence Stamp runs 36 minutes, 58 seconds. The actor discusses various parts of his career. Along with general notes, he chats about Superman, Billy Budd, Wall Street, his romances, and some collaborators.

Stamp proves to be warm and witty during this chat. Apparently the actor didn’t give a lot of interviews back in the day, but you can’t tell that from his engaging personality. As the interview exists to promote Wall Street and Stamp’s then-current memoir, you won’t learn anything about The Hit here, but you’ll get plenty of entertaining stories.

In addition to the film’s Theatrical Trailer, we get a 16-Page Booklet. It contains some photos along with an essay from Graham Fuller. The article offers a nice mix of facts about the film and interpretation.

Aided by a few strong performances, The Hit gives us an interesting twist on the standard gangster fare. The film threatens to become a pompous piece of existential nonsense, but it remains unpretentious and grounded enough to keep us involved. The DVD provides good picture and audio as well as a couple of tasty supplements. The Hit scores as a movie and a DVD.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.25 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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