Monday, January 02, 2006

Neglected Direct-to-Video Gem: HIT ME

Fans of noir and the hard-boiled crime novels of Jim Thompson (who also wrote the novels upon which The Grifters, Coup de Torchon, The Getaway and After Dark, My Sweet were based) are highly advised to check out Hit Me, a shamefully neglected, direct-to-video 1996 release that, I think, is more effective and moving than any of the previously mentioned Thompson adaptations and is a damned effective noir to boot, truly capturing the desparation, humiliation, and fragility of its main male character. He's brilliantly realized by Canadian-born actor Elias Koteas (the fellow who plays Vaughn, and makes out with James Spader, in Cronenberg's Crash -- as well as the DJ in Exotica and the "decent" officer who refuses Nick Nolte's orders in The Thin Red Line). I've long been a fan of Koteas but one seldom gets to see him really run with a performance as he does here; he shamelessly steals a bit from de Niro, and there's a hammy edge to his excesses, but one suspects that that has a bit to do with director Steven Shainberg's somewhat ironic approach to the material -- he may well have coached Koteas to act broadly, as a nod to the audience's savviness about the role and the genre. It's great fun to watch Koteas work, in any case (for me, anyhow -- some reviewers on IMDB describe his performance as "a pointless exercise in scenery-chewing"); his energy and confidence really pull the film along, and one hopes that some of the quirkier moments -- his initial "dance" at the hotel room door, for instance -- were his own inventions. I disliked Shainberg's subsequent film, Secretary, which received far more attention, but think this film (tho' it does suffer from a couple of clunky moments and problems of construction) is really worth seeing; bizarre that it only has five reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and six "user comments" on IMDB -- people really just didn't pay attention to it, and unless I'm off my mark, I don't think it even got distributed on video until after Secretary was a minor hit. Well, people are idiots; this is a great little film. By the way, the screenplay (which has some wonderful turns of language at times) was written by novelist Denis Johnson, who also wrote the stories on which the film Jesus' Son were based.

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