Ten years ago, a criminal with strong links to the London gangster underworld decided for reasons that his cohorts could not fathom to turn grass and inform on them all. In court, he readily gave as much information as he could, even too much information, as his ex-friends sat across from him stewing with anger. Once his testimony had been given and there was no doubt that they were going to be sentenced to a lot of jail time, the judge thanked Willie Parker (Terence Stamp), but as he was walking for the exit, the criminals began to sing the old Vera Lynn song We'll Meet Again, a threat that they were by no means finished with him and no matter where he hid next, they would find him.
Even if it takes ten years, as it does in The Hit which was director Stephen Frears' return to big screen moviemaking after thirteen years away since Gumshoe, an equally offbeat crime film with a quirky sense of humour. This wasn't a detective yarn, but there was an air of mystery about it because Parker has adopted a curiously zen calm in the years he's been away in Spain, reading a whole library of books as if awaiting his inevitable death. Well, everyone's death is inevitable, but he fully expects his old colleagues to catch up with him eventually, and so it is when a gang of Spanish locals ambush him in his house and bundle him off in their car to meet with the London hoods.
There are two of those, Braddock played by an icily ruthless John Hurt, and his henchman Myron played by Tim Roth in his feature debut after a few memorable television roles. Once seeing off the Spaniards, they take Willie on a trip which in Peter Prince's script became that most American of genres, the road movie, only as Wim Wenders had shown, the Europeans could very happily adopt that style to their own landscape. Frears presented some vivid locations to make it look as if Parker is being escorted across some alien planet, at times barren and rock strewn, at others verdant and unknowable, which was ideal for a narrative which traded on its inherent enigma to sustain its drama: was it possible to meet your demise with such acquiesance, to the extent of actually welcoming it?
Not that Parker wants to die, but he doesn't appear to have a problem with it since this is all going the way he anticipated, and as long as it does so he can remain philosophically ready for the experience. The trio are headed for Paris and the rendez-vous with the big boss Corrigan (oddly played in the opening scenes by blind seventies crooner Lennie Peters of Peters and Lee fame), but the best laid plans and all that, so before long the supposedly professional hitman Braddock, which isn't his real name, is proceeding to mess up, mostly because there's one witness he cannot bring himself to dispose of. When the cops begin to follow their trail, they trio stop off at Madrid and an old acquaintance of Braddock's, the Australian Harry (Bill Hunter, a bag of nerves in a nicely handled extended cameo).
However, it's not Harry Braddock has a problem with, it's Harry's girlfriend, a Spanish girl called Maggie, essayed by dancer Laura del Sol just coming off the success of the film version of Carmen the previous year. She appears cowed and victimised, but although she is a liability to their mission Braddock keeps letting her live as she grows fiestier and fiestier, as if having the most animated soul she is the one character who deserves to endure. What of Myron, then, who carries a selection of weaponry but is perhaps not quite as much of the hardman as he wishes to make out? He strikes up a relationship with Parker which is borne of a fascination that their hit should not be at all concerned about what some very violent men have in store for him, and it's an intrigue you will share should the film work its magic over you for it's a slow, deliberately paced effort which will not compel everyone, not anyone seeking the sort of guns 'n' geezers gangsters movie that became prevalent soon after, at any rate. It's this conundrum, alluding to the sheer strangeness of death, that inspires. Guitar music by Paco de Lucía.