Incorporated Television Company
Directed and Produced by Michael Dryhurst
Executive Producer: John Boorman
Screenplay by Kevin Grogan/Richard F. Tombleson
It’s not an original story for a crime thriller. An aging hitman wants to retire and live out the rest of his days in peace and isolation, quietly contemplating a life wasted. But his boss doesn’t want him to quit. He’s got the proverbial One Last Job that only the hitman can do. The hitman resists. His boss takes steps to force the hitman into doing the One Last Job. The hitman appears to agree. But he’s got his own steps he will take. Steps that involve people getting killed. Including his boss. Nobody’s plans go the way they expect them to.
What elevates THE HARD WAY is that the aging hitman is played by Patrick McGoohan and his boss is played by Lee Van Cleef and having told you that you should by now have abandoned reading this review and run off to Amazon Prime to see this movie for yourself.
John Connor (Patrick McGoohan) is an Irish assassin who has just done his last job in London and retired to a remote cottage way up in some remote mountains in Ireland. His career has ruined his family life and brought him nothing but misery. He just wants to be left alone. His boss McNeal (Lee Van Cleef) makes the trip to Ireland to persuade him to do One Last Job. There’s a political assassination that must be carried out. An African minister must be killed and Connor is the only one that McNeal trusts to carry out the contract. Connor refuses. Shortly after, two McNeal’s men show up at his cottage with a picture of Connor’s wife Kathleen (Edna O’Brien). The meaning is plain. Either Connor performs the hit or his wife will be killed. Connor agrees to do the job, but he’s got his own ideas on who should be killed.
The 1970s was a terrific decade for some of the best crime dramas/thrillers ever made and it’s a damn shame that THE HARD WAY isn’t more well known because it can easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any other movie in that genre made during that decade. Apparently, this was made for British television and it shows as they didn’t break the bank on the budget. But that works in favor of this movie because it has to rely on story and characters to sell the movie and on those points, it delivers.
I particularly enjoy Patrick McGoohan’s performance because if he says over fifty words in this movie, it ‘d surprise me. In fact, nobody really says much in this movie except for Lee Van Cleef who has the bulk of the dialog. But the fact that nobody says much really works with the tone and mood of the movie. These are tough, professional, quietly dangerous men who only talk when they have to and when they do talk, they say only what they have to say and no more. There’s no meaningless chit-chat, no wisecracking, no cute one-liners going on between them.
And Patrick McGoohan really makes the lack of dialog work for him. Through his facial expressions and body language there’s never a moment in the movie where I didn’t know what he’s thinking and feeling and that right there for me is some damn great acting.
If they blew the budget on anything it was location shooting. There’s a scene where McGoohan has to face three killers sent by McNeal and he takes them on in the mountains where his cottage is located and it’s some truly gorgeous country. And it’s a helluva suspenseful sequence as well. Topped only by the final confrontation between Conner and McNeal in a decaying mansion McNeal has booby-trapped. It’s a deadly game of cat-and-mouse they play with McNeal using psychological tricks and well as his knowledge of how Connor thinks, thanks to their long association.
If it’s a tough, hard-as-concrete crime thriller you’re looking for that is brutally unsentimental and doesn’t compromise then you’d do well to check out THE HARD WAY. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed either by the story or by the performances delivered by Patrick McGoohan and Lee Van Cleef. If you call yourself a fan of those actors, THE HARD WAY belongs on your Must See list. Enjoy.