The big picture

  • The punch
    one of Christopher Nolan's favorite films, starring Terence Stamp, John Hurt and Tim Roth.
  • The film deals with mortality and how the characters deal with death.
  • The punch
    The minimalist setting and character dynamics of “The 400” are reminiscent of Nolan’s early work.

Who knows about Christopher Nolan's work will not be surprised to learn that he is a fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, And Lawrence of Arabia, because their fingerprints are all over his own films. The director's taste is wide enough to cover everything from the sublime to the silly – who would have thought he would feel so much affection for Talladega – The Last Nights? One of the director's lesser-known favorites is The punch, a dark little thriller that left an indelible impression on Nolan, evident in his own films, especially the first three.

The 1984 release directed by Stephen Frearswas one of Nolan’s top 10 picks from the Criterion Collection, a list that also included such certified masterpieces as 12 angry men And The thin red line. “That Criterion has released this little-known gem from Stephen Frears is a testament to the thoroughness of their search for obscure masterpieces,” Nolan enthused. “Few films have staked so much on a simple depiction of the dynamics between desperate men,” he added, and indeed what begins as a sparse little thrill quickly develops into a profound examination of life and death.

What is “The Hit” about?

Terence Stamp plays Willie Parker, a London gangster who is hiding in Spain after testifying against his criminal colleagues a decade ago. He is tracked down by experienced assassin Mitchell Braddock (Johannes Hurt) and his dynamic apprentice Myron (Tim Roth), who have been ordered to take Parker to Paris for execution. On the way, they pick up a white Mercedes from Harry (Bill Hunter), a clumsy Australian gangster, and kidnap his young Spanish girlfriend Maggie (Laura del Sol) to stop Harry from calling the police. Myron is increasingly distracted by their beautiful prisoner, while Braddock keeps trying to kill her. Meanwhile, Parker plays Braddock and Myron against each other by casually accepting his impending death. The fascinating thing about The punch is how it will be a study of how each of us, in our own way, deals with the inevitability of our own mortality.

“The Hit” is a showdown between two men who have to deal with death

The specter of death hovers over The punchboth on a plot level and a thematic level. Parker has spent ten years under police protection to avoid being killed, has lived out his days in a Spanish villa by the sea and enjoyed the rewards of putting his former crime boss behind bars, but he can't evade capture forever. In many ways, His handling of his fate serves as a metaphor for how every person copes with the reality of death: We tell ourselves that it won't happen to us and that we can somehow talk our way out of it, but in the end we all die.

On his journey, Parker speaks of his own death with quiet reserve, saying he has had ten long years to prepare for something that happens to all of us. “It's just a moment,” he tells Braddock. “One minute we're here, then we're somewhere else… or we're not here.” Either way, he believes, death is nothing to be afraid of. But when the moment comes sooner than expected and Braddock decides to get the job over with before he gets to Paris as planned, Parker tries to escape, showing that his acceptance of the inevitable was just a delaying tactic, and in the end He is just as afraid of dying as everyone else.


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At the same time, Braddock is fighting against his own impending doom, convinced that since he has made murder his profession, he can somehow escape his own death. Throughout the road trip, Braddock is constantly confronted with the reality of mortality in the ways his three companions deal with it: Parker, knowing he is dying, pretends to be content with that, when in reality he is trying to find a way out; Maggie, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, has no intention of giving up without a fight; and Myron, young enough to still believe he will live forever, is so convinced of his immortality that he constantly gets into trouble with strangers. Braddock believes he can control his own destiny by determining the fate of others.but as the saying goes, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans for the future.

Christopher Nolan’s first films follow the same path as “The Hit”

Before becoming the king of blockbusters, Nolan cut his teeth directing three neo-noir films, each of which grew in scope and ambition: Followed, Memory, And insomnia. These were smaller-scale thrillers revolving around criminals, mysteries and mistaken identities. They took inspiration from the golden age of film noir and updated their stories for the modern era. It's almost shocking to see that the man known for shooting as many scenes as possible with an IMAX camera could work as well with so few resources as he did in the first part of his career.

It should therefore come as no surprise that Nolan is a big fan of The punchas it similarly achieves so much with so little. What is essentially a four-character chamber piece set almost entirely in a moving vehicle never feels static or theatrical thanks to Frears' energetic direction and emphasis on character dynamics. And just like Nolan's first three films, it uses the crime genre as a vehicle to explore something deeper about human psychology. As the director said in his Criterion blurb: So much emphasis is placed on the simple portrayal of the dynamics between desperate men. After all, what could be more important than the price we all have to pay for the gift of life?

The punch can be streamed on the Criterion Channel in the USA


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