Hit Man Review

Hit Man
When a professor (Glen Powell) starts acting as a fake hitman, he gets a little too invested in his role — and one of his clients (Adria Arjona).

by Sophie Butcher |
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Hit Man

It’s taken a while for Glen Powell to truly step into the spotlight. After popping up in the likes of Hidden FiguresSet It Up and Everybody Wants Some!! (the last his first collaboration with Richard Linklater), it was 2022’s Top Gun: Maverick that saw him really take flight, giving an unforgettably hissable-yet-heroic performance as Lt Jake ‘Hangman’ Seresin. Major turns have come since — box-office-busting romcom Anyone But You and another aviation adventure, Devotion — but it is with Hit Man that Powell announces himself as a movie star and a filmmaking force to be reckoned with.

Hit Man

Inspired by the true story of teacher-turned-pretend-assassin Gary Johnson (as reported by journalist Skip Hollandsworth in a 2001 article for Texas Monthly), Hit Man sees Powell re-team with Linklater, this time on a deeper creative level as co-writer. It takes the real-life nugget of Gary’s unusual side-hustle and expands it into a tale of murder, mystery and mugshots. Powell starts off the movie playing against type — his Gary is a socks-and-sandals-wearing loner and birdwatcher, with two cats and a bad haircut. But when he’s asked last-minute to assume the role of fake hit man, so as to lure those looking to hire him into confessing plainly enough to warrant being arrested, he is intoxicated by the confidence that being somebody else gives him.

Arjona's chemistry with Powell is sizzling, captured by Linklater through tactile touch and lingering eye contact.

Cue a hilarious roll-call of disguises, as Gary delights in researching his targets and figuring out the exact type of hitman that will draw them over the line into illegal territory. There’s the tattooed redneck with wrap-around sunglasses and camouflage bandana; the Russian-accented, cigar-chomping goth in the black leather coat; the slick-haired, sharp-suited yuppie who looks like he came straight off the set of American Psycho; the freckle-faced British guy with a ginger bob, dressed entirely in orange; and many, many more. Powell sinks entirely into every one of these identities, going full-on goofball with impeccable comic timing.

Hit Man

His finest character, though, is handsome charmer Ron. He is the assassin that Gary devises for Madison (Adria Arjona), a woman looking for a way out of her abusive marriage — but upon meeting her, Gary forgets his mission, letting Madison get away with her potential crime before striking up a relationship with her in his Ron persona. Arjona embodies both fieriness and fragility in what is surely a breakout role for her, making Madison an irresistible match for Gary/Ron while making sure there’s always something off about her that we can’t quite put our finger on. Her chemistry with Powell is sizzling, captured by Linklater through tactile touch and lingering eye contact. A romance based on lies and murder-for-hire is not exactly a healthy dynamic, but the pair are too magnetic for you to care, their charisma together oozing off-screen even when the plot becomes more heightened and melodramatic.

Hit Man

Though the narrative has plenty of twists and turns, Linklater’s direction still manages to evoke the cosy, comfortable vibe of his best hang-out movies. Hit Man’s visual style is clean, unfussy — not vastly inventive, but sunny and colourful and engaging. That fresh, modern aesthetic juxtaposes nicely with a more traditional, jazzy score throughout. But while there are a few dramatic scenes that work at building tension, especially in the third act, the film mostly speeds along on a pretty even keel — always entertaining, but never quite delivering huge shifts in tempo or emotion. Questionable, too, is just how quickly Gary is able to shift gear from being a bumbling, socially-awkward techie into a cool-as-a-cucumber contract killer. The script uses Gary’s work as a psychology and philosophy teacher to go some way into digging into this, and the ethics of his faux assassin role, but that exploration remains fairly surface-level.

Gary’s whiplash-inducing personality changes are but a quibble — those aside, Hit Man delivers on just about every level. It’s funny, sexy, thrilling, fascinating. It’s original, and refreshingly so. It’s simply a friggin’ good time at the movies — and so, more’s the pity that it will receive such a limited theatrical run after being picked up for distribution by Netflix. If you can, try to experience Linklater, Powell and Arjona’s heady concoction for yourself on the big screen.

Glen Powell achieves certified movie-star status and Adria Arjona shines in this slick, seductive romantic thriller. Don’t let it get buried in your Netflix watch list.
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