The 1996 Steven Shainberg film Hit Me begins with the Thoreau monograph: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation,” thus setting the stage for Sonny the bellhop, played by the brilliant Elias Koteas, working a dead end job in a “three-star-hotel-that-used-to-be-four-star-hotel” in Tacoma, Washington.
Director: Steven Shainberg
Producers: Gregory Goodman, Steven Shainberg
Writers: Denis Johnson, Jim Thompson
Cinematographer: Mark J. Gordon
Editor: Donn Aron
Music: Peter Manning Robinson
Cast: Elias Koteas, Laure Marsac, Jay Leggett, Bruce Ramsay
US Theatrical Release: Sept. 25, 1998
Koteas has an enormous amount of charisma,(from the NYPost: “Koteas has the savage intensity of Robert Deniro’s Taxi Driver”) which quickly comes in handy as he draws the viewer through Sonny’s mundane everyday. He seethes carrying luggage, cleaning toilets, and delivering room service. At home, he is the sole care provider for a brother with autism. But the plot turns as Sonny meets a “swell looking dame” in room 884: Monique (Laure Marsac), a beautiful French dancer with her heart set on Paris. When an illegal high stakes poker game settles in at the hotel, Sonny sees his chance to make a better life for his brother, and Monique.
Hit Me has the almost dubious pedigree of a Denis Johnson screenplay adapted from a Jim Thompson novel (A Swell Looking Dame). Thompson, the most hardboiled of the hardboiled, wallowed in desperation. According to one glowing blurb in the New Republic, "Like Clint Eastwood's pictures it's the stuff for rednecks, truckers, failures, psychopaths and professors ... one of the finest American writers and the most frightening, [Thompson] is on best terms with the devil. Read Jim Thompson and take a tour of hell.” And Johnson, whose Tree of Smoke ranks high among the best novels of the last fifty years, is no stranger to talk, violence, and desperation. He never falls into the trap of affected “noir-talk”, focusing instead on the essential grit of a degraded workingman’s language. Like in many of Johnson’s best novels, (Fiskadoro, Train Dreams) the spoken language of Hit Me seeps credibility, and anchors the plotlines that converge and lead on towards a seemingly inevitable end. While Hit Me isn’t perfect, it’s very good. And a great supporting cast (Kevin J. O’Connor, Philip Baker Hall, and William H. Macy) effectively nails the noir, and frankly contemporary, anguish that comes from working people living out desperate lives, unable to get above water.