Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Protagonists Within Stephen Frears's "The Hit"

While this blog began with my analysis of classical, it's about time I began to branch off. While I'll definitely continue writing about music (from classical to modern day), after seeing the 1984 film directed by Stephen Frears "The Hit", I couldn't resist writing down a few thoughts about it. In case you haven't seen the movie, I suggest you go watch it before reading this because I'll be spoiling things (and also because you probably won't understand much of what I'm musing about if you haven't seen it).

"The Hit" is a movie which provokes us to search for its true protagonist. The first name coming to mind would be Willie Parker (portrayed by Terence Stamp), after all, he's the only character in the journey who immediately fills our expectations of a protagonist. After doing the right thing and ratting out his criminal buddies, he's kidnapped and to be executed. He's a good-looking smooth-talking fellow (checks the boxes of "hero" so far), delivering constant philosophical ramblings and coy smiles which pervade the thoughts of his captors who pretend to be so indifferent (but probably have a more monotonous effect on us viewers after a while). Willie becomes the archetypal sage hero in his calm acceptance of his fate, we quickly grow bored of him, and because of this we turn to the two characters holding Willie's destiny in what seems to be a fairly shaky grip.

The poor souls that are Myron and Mr. Braddock become much more interesting than Willie, and while at first it's difficult to see them as heroes in any way, they quickly affirm themselves as key protagonists. Tim Roth definitely succeeds in performing the wild and insecure Myron, gifting us viewers the easiest character to decipher in this film which changes our expectations of who characters really are, and how quickly we should change our opinions about them.

As we hunt for who the true protagonist is, director Stephen Frears gives all of the characters enough depth to don at least a glimmer of heroism. Even poor Harry (the Australian gangster inhabiting the Madrid safehouse) who himself admits that he was just "in the wrong place at the wrong time", has an arc which after its end solemnly sticks with its memorable moments. He's almost the first of many to face death (don't forget Willie's bodyguard who early in the movie heroically faced an oncoming car with as much gusto he could muster. That same heroic gusto is also seen later by the young man at the petrol station phoning the police before Mr. Braddock puts a lead pellet in his skull). Each man confronts his impending doom a different way. While throughout the movie we grow accustomed to Willie's instructive musings on the afterlife, it's only Mr. Braddock (the darkest and most unsettling character of them all) who seems to be able to remember Willie's soothing words after suffering the most gruesome death of the film.

While during the story Mr. Braddock does his best to maintain a cool professionalism, behind his shades and shifty names that others know him by, his constant struggles in pulling off "The Hit" definitively establish him as the most likeable of the protagonists. Especially when Willie, the mystical man with a plan shows his cowardly vulnerabilities and the fact that he doesn't actually have a plan against a loaded gun when Mr. Braddock decides "it's time". As for Myron, his hyper-active tension fuelling (but also tension-cutting with his humor) presence is just boyish enough to make you suffer when you see the lack of understanding in his face right before being taken out by Mr. Braddock.

"The Hit" undoubtedly challenges what we expect of characters in these types of films. While perhaps we were waiting for a singular hero to take command of the plot (funnily enough, if there is one it's the only woman in the story, Maggie), we discover that it was the mixture of these different and enigmatic characters which provided the special moments of the movie. When they all end up dead (except for Maggie, who interestingly enough if the main character we know the least about), we're left with disappointment not because a single protagonist died, but because the characters which drove the story through the gorgeous Spanish spaces are no longer there.


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