In 1984, director Stephen Frears hadn’t made a feature film in 13 years; Terence Stamp hadn’t starred in a film in over a decade; and Tim Roth had a single movie credit to his name. The Hit, a flinty crime drama that was anything but its namesake on initial release, finds these three itching to bust into the game, which, in no time at all, each did. Wearing its existential trappings on its sleeve, the premise of this overlooked gem is, appropriately, simplicity itself: four mismatched people in a stolen car have to get from point A to point B, in a journey fraught with predictable but no less delicious tension. Willie (Stamp) is a criminal informer destined for, yet oddly accepting of, imminent death; Myron (Roth) is a loose cannon thug-in-training spoiling for a fight; while Maggie (Laura Del Sol) seems innocent but harbors her own taste for blood. John Hurt’s frosty assassin completes the quartet. The Spanish countryside through which they drive — a disturbing reflection of the characters’ equal interdependency and deep mistrust of each other — radiates a barren aridty that calls to mind The Passenger, Antonioni’s similarly philosophically minded road film. The promise exhibited in Stamp and Roth’s riveting performances, as well as Frears’s deft handling of internal dread and external violence, soon came to fruition. Within a year, Frears had made his career breakthrough with My Beautiful Launderette, while Stamp and Roth would soon go on to establish themselves as vital and durable screen presences (Hurt, of course, was already there). To anyone watching, The Hit already gave notice that they were ready, willing, and able to step up to the plate.
About the Author
Steve Futterman writes the "Jazz and Standards" listings for The New Yorker.