Writer: Denis Johnson based on the novel by Jim Thompson
Director: Steven Shainberg
Gross: $3 348 (opened and played on one screen)
in 2002 steven shainberg made a bit of a splash with the film Secretary: a coming-of-age/s&m love story. if you haven't seen it, it is worth checking out. Secretary was, however, not his first film. that honor goes to Hit Me, which he made six years previous.
Hit Me is based on the jim thompson novel, A Swell-Looking Babe, and i should reface this discussion about the film by saying that i have never read the book. the reason why this is important to say is because, among all the comments made about the film that i saw, the most negative ones were from individuals familiar with the novel and jim thompson's work in general. also, knowing how i usually react to movies based on books that i have read and enjoyed, i can understand being disappointed with the film on that level. however, as a film on its own it is really good.
the film follows a bellboy, sonny rose - played by elias koteas, at a 2-star hotel with ambitions to get that 3rd-star back that it once had. sonny is stuck in a rut at work and trying to take care of his mentally challenged brother at home so the state doesn't take him away. sonny meets a women in the opening of the film and through various events and circumstances gets involved in a crime scheme. sounds like the perfect setting for a film noir don't it? well, actually i want to call it a faux-noir, because while it has many of the classic film noir elements (a crime, a femme fetal...) it definitely has its own take on the genre. particularly the 'noir' part.
rather then darkness this film deals with a lot of brightness, particularly when it comes to the hotel where much of the movie takes place. the hotel decor doesn't look like it has been updated since 1978, the hallways are a used-to-be-bright yellow and don't forget the salmon colored uniform jacket that sonny wears. the camera work is also worth mentioning and is something else that stood out for me. the set design and the cinematography work wonderfully to create a mood that fits with sonny's pathetic situation and his desperate desire to get out of his rut (which makes his willingness to go along with everything understandable).
besides koteas, william h. macy makes a very short, but fun appearance, philip baker hall is good as always and haing s. ngor has a small role in what would turn out to be his last film (he was shot outside his home in los angeles).
there are twists and turns throughout the film, and although seasoned film noir and crime film vets will be able to see some of them coming, there were a few that i didn't anticipate. jim thompson fans might want to be a little weary, but for those that can distance themsleves from the source material, or those that don't know it, Hit Me is an original film from, at the time, a first time director.