In his Variety obit for the late John Hurt, Owen Gleiberman notes that Hurt’s extraordinary range always involved empathy for this characters, a prime example being “his mordant undertone of regret” as the professional killer in Stephen FrearsThe Hit (1984).

The character was called Braddock, and Hurt’s portrayal of this flinty fellow was a kind of game, in a sense. All through the film he did the standard taciturn and frosty thing, the proverbial ice-man, a void in his soul. And yet Braddock was almost entirely driven by emotion. The trick was to convey occasional spigots of the stuff beneath the tough-guy facade.

Braddock was cold, clipped, hard-boiled. Strictly a professional, always guarded, always with the shades. But Hurt’s task in The Hit was to secrete little flickers of feeling, little hints of alone-ness and black humor or existential fear, and — during the third act — to convey hints of buried camaraderie and even compassion for Terrence Stamp‘s Willie Parker.

The fact that Braddock had a thing for Laura del Sol‘s Maggie wasn’t so much conveyed by Peter Prince‘s script but by Hurt’s extraordinary finesse. You eventually get the idea that Del Sol might be the great love of Braddock’s life.

The strongest proof of this is that twice Braddock tries to shoot her but can’t. In the assassin game that’s the equivalent of Romeo’s balcony scene with Juliet. Braddock’s offering to Del Sol of unqualified adoration comes when he lets her bite and draw blood and even tear off a tiny chunk of flesh from his right hand without struggling or screaming. Soon after Tim Roth suggests stopping for some food and mentioning that Del Sol is probably starving, and Hurt, with a slightest hint of a grin, says, “She’s already eaten.”

And the last thing Braddock does as he’s dying at the end is to catch Del Sol’s eye and slowly wink at her.