The opening credits (following a half-obscured porno slideshow) posit a certain kinship to Billion Dollar Brain by photographing the antihero (Michael Caine) reading Raymond Chandler in the train, but where Ken Russell was keyed to Lichtenstein, Mike Hodges is a steely Diebenkorn, dry and dangerous. Caine, the hitman from London, comes to Newcastle to bury his brother; the funeral allows for a pointed view of the industrial landscape, it's called a suicide but Caine knows better and digs for the truth, brutally. Old colleagues have become foes, John Osborne as a smut ringleader provides suave rot and a Sixties point of reference (Inadmissible Evidence and In Time Present, say), a weasel (Ian Hendry) has eyes like "piss-pots in the snow." ("Clever sod." "Only comparatively.") The seeker knows how physical manipulation applies to pain as well as pleasure, so after a full day of roughing up hoods he teases his landlady (Rosemarie Dunham) by phoning his mistress back home, a reworking of Touch of Evil to accommodate Britt Ekland writhing in silk stockings. The droll set-up pays off the following morning, when Caine, interrupted mid-romp by two thugs, repels them in the nude with a shotgun, "Auld Lang Syne" is played with kazoos by an all-girl marching band outside -- "What would Jesus say," the plaque above his bed asks. Hodge' technique is sturdy and surprising, the "Demon King" (Bryan Mosley) is first spotted at a jazzy teen party (cf. Au Hasard Balthazar), with a Tatiesque view of his home anchored by a reveler puking in the garden pond. Caine's mission is elucidated as a stag film (Teacher's Pet) unspools at a moll's apartment, triggering his mirth until he sees his niece (Petra Markham) in the schoolgirl uniform. Vengeance follows swiftly, though Hodges, like Boorman before him and Soderbergh afterwards, understands the limits of nihilism, the progress toward the truth leads into the ocean, dank and overcast. With Geraldine Moffat, Tony Beckley, George Sewell, Dorothy White, and Bernard Hepton.
--- Fernando F. Croce