Terence Stamp has the ability to play a hard-edge mo-fo like any of the best of cockney slanged gangsters, but he also brings a goofiness, a loose charm, and sly wit to his performances that make for a unique performances. Bringing exactly this to the table in Stephen Frears’ 1984 gangster picture, The Hit, Stamp plays a mid level operator, Willie Parker, who for reasons known only to himself (well, there is the small matter of the witness relocation program ponying up a villa in Spain for his retirement) sells all of his mates and bosses to the state. Ten years later, in the barren Spanish desert, Willie is captured by Braddock, a smooth and super-cool professional killer tasked, along with wet behind the ears henchman Myron (played by a baby-faced Tim Roth), to bring Willie back to ‘justice’ from the blokes now out of the clink.
But this road trip from Madrid to Paris is anything but typical, much of the time it seems Willie is more in charge and in control of things than Braddock. His zen calm at his decidedly limited number of hours on earth spooks Braddock and threatens Myron’s loyalty to his boss. In this scene, Braddock and Parker have a little existential and poetic heart to heart at fate and loyalty and professionalism. John Hurt’s performance as the subdued, cool (under which hides confusion) jobber is quite wonderful.
Other than The Criterion Collection re-releasing this wonderfully offbeat film on DVD in April last year, it was more or less forgotten amongst Frears’ more famous works; yet very likely it is one of those little seen, but highly influential pictures. Evoking the effortless cool also seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs – another film about heists and gangsters yet little violence or crime on screen as well as the past-coming-to-roost of Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast and probably a young Jim Jarmusch.
In short, The Hit is a real gem. Long live the art-gangster picture.