Thursday, May 2, 2013

In short: Hit Man (1972)

Tyrone Tackett (Bernie Casey) returns to his native Los Angeles from Oakland, where he works for a shady porn tycoon, to attend the funeral of his brother. Tyrone's brother supposedly drove to death in his car while drunk (though there are also hints of suicide), but Tyrone quickly figures something was wrong with the death. It's not very difficult to think so, really, what with a couple of gangsters working for Tyrone's former boss, porn tycoon and racist Nano Zito (Don Diamond), following him just as soon as he arrives in town, pressing him to leave again right after the funeral, his brother's girlfriend having nothing to say to him at all, and his niece Rochelle (Candy All) just acting off.

Threats of any kind don't work on Tyrone, so he starts to ask questions, annoy powerful people, and give as much violence back as he receives until he'll find out how and why his brother truly died. He also finds time to sleep with any woman (including Pam Grier when she was Pamela Grier) he encounters. One would not want to be in the shoes of anyone he finds responsible for the death.

George Armitage's Hit Man is based on Ted Lewis's Jack Returns Home, the same novel Mike Hodges's classic British crime movie Get Carter adapts. For me, this resulted in a rather confusing viewing experience where nearly identical scenes play out just slightly different, yet the film as a whole feels utterly different from Get Carter. It's a bit like meeting someone who nearly looks like a dear old friend, but isn't; still, you can't help yourself and compare, and really become confused when your mysterious stranger suddenly goes off in a totally different direction.

For large parts of its running time, Hit Man feels much looser and more leisurely than the British movie, with Tackett sharing Carter's propensity for violence but seeming much more relaxed and at one with himself, even when he's dodging bullets and paying people back for racist insults. Casey's performance is rather laid back, and while he is no young Michael Caine, he does give Tackett more depth than the first look at his pimp-tastic clothes leads one to expect. The whole "unstoppable sex god" thing does get tiresome, though.

Tonally, Armitage's film feels less dark, even though both movies do share a plot. Armitage clearly loves slightly off-beat humour where Hodges just looks at the world with grim distance. I wouldn't exactly call Hit Man friendlier (it does after all end with Casey basically killing everyone) but it does at least crack a smile from time to time. Armitage's movie also changes the final fate of its protagonist, which to me felt like the result of a lack of courage.

I'd rather prefer to be able to talk about Hit Man without permanently comparing it to Get Carter but both films are just too close to each other to; and in direct comparison Hit Man is just the lesser movie, even though it certainly is a good one.

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