Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Hard Way (1979)

The Hard Way is as cold, clinical and as briskly efficient as an assassination itself. There's nothing especially new in this story - a man of violence wants out of the game, but he's pressured into taking the mythical 'One Last Job' before he's finally granted his freedom. He soon finds himself out on a limb and out of favour, determined to turn the tables.

So, not very original but what sets this story apart is the key cast of Patrick McGoohan as the ageing assassin John Connor, and Lee Van Cleef as his employer, McNeal. These veteran toughs deliver fine performances in this formulaic game of cat and mouse and it's a gripping, absorbing experience thanks to those two and the sparse, tense writing and direction on offer. At 51 and 54 respectively, McGoohan and Van Cleef actually look a good decade or two older by today's standards but that really works - you really do get the feeling that those two lone wolf operatives have lived their lives on a knife edge waiting for their pasts to catch up with them. Waiting for this very moment. 

The whole film has a suitably bleak and wintry feel as befits both the wet and austere looking Irish landscapes and the autumnal points in both stars careers.

Of course nowadays they'd remake it with those growing old disgracefully meatheads Stallone and Mickey Rourke and have them fighting, stripped to the waist and greased up at every opportunity so it's satisfying that this plays out more authentically and effectively, with a prescient nod to the (at the time of writing - Spectre hasn't come out yet!) most recent Bond movie, Skyfall with its thrilling, booby trapped mansion house denouement. 

Like I say it's not an original storyline so you can draw many comparisons to this film, which owes something of everything from Point Blank to Day of the Jackal and tonally as a TV movie there's an affinity to the likes of Callan and with, that elegiac and lyrical melancholia that is uniquely Irish, there's also similarities to that great TV miniseries Harry's Game too - though it's refreshing to see an Irish based hitman thriller made in 1979 and set in that present day that hasn't anything to do with The Troubles.

Cleverly, the film utilises Brian Eno's Music for Films album which Eno composed as a conceptual work for imaginary films. It adds a cold, anonymous feel to what is already a chilly little production - one that is so good it lingers in the memory for some time after viewing.

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