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Stuart Croft
If the location for The Loss Leader is redolent of sub-Hitchcock, the action that takes place in the bar in Hit (22 min, 2003) might easily reference David Mamet's House of Games.

Mamet didn't have a nocturnal cocktail bar scene, but he should have. The scene itself - actually the bar of London's Great Eastern Hotel - is the perfect foil for sexual chemistry, the attempted con and a shifting power-base.

Here's the pitch. Boy meets girl in the empty bar. It's late evening, or at least it's dark, which is the same because this is the movies. These two have history, but despite the sexual undertones the exchange is guarded. Overcoming the initial cold-shoulder, boy tries to sell girl the big con, a long-term sweepstake that relies on second-guessing an anonymous individual's death.

Sounds familiar? It should, because Croft is borrowing from a dozen noir movies, including Mamet's, with their classical narrative and thematic conventions. It's a generic bar-room noir, but pared down to the simplicity of a Beckett two-hander and worthy of Chandler himself. But, of course, there has to be a twist. Mamet's protagonist, Margaret Ford, extracts the ultimate revenge in the penultimate scene. Croft, on the other hand, achieves his by sleight of hand and yet again by means of the slow dissolve. Just as the con is in full swing, sound and images become superimposed with a different take, and when we re-emerge on the far side the roles have reversed. Now the girl is selling the con, using the same script as before but reading the other part, and there's a different actor playing the boy. The transition is seamless, although it takes place before our very eyes. Not unlike Find the Lady, that other favourite con.

Despite - or perhaps because of - its simplicity and restraint, Hit was Croft's most accomplished work thus far. His cutting had become effortless and no longer foregrounded the editorial process, or rather did so with greater finesse and with less need to overtly signify. The film - and it deserves to be considered alongside cinema - is narratively more simplistic, more linear, save only for the underhand switching of roles, which nevertheless is clearly demarcated through the use of the slow dissolve. And yet this slippage from victim to con-artist continues to wrong-foot us, lying as it does as an overt convention at the cyclic fulcrum of the film.

Still from Hit by Stuart Croft, 2003
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