Hit Man (United States, 2023)

June 03, 2024
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Hit Man Poster

Few working directors display the versatility of Richard Linklater. Equally comfortable making high-concept art films, experimental outings designed for mass consumption, and multiplex-friendly fare, Linklater has brought to the screen projects as varied as the Before trilogy, Boyhood, and School of Rock. His latest, Hit Man, falls squarely into the mainstream bucket, relying in large part of the strengths of his co-writer and lead actor, Glen Powell, whose ascending star continues its momentum. As with his earlier film Bernie, Linklater has turned to a true-life feature article by Skip Hollandsworth in Texas Monthly for the backbone of the movie. Although the romantic elements are fictionalized, the main thrust of the narrative and the name of the character reflect a reality of sorts.

The movie is considerably more lighthearted than the title implies. The lead character, Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), is not a hitman. In fact, as part of a piece of voiceover narration, he decries the existence of hired assassins in general, claiming they are the creation of books, movies, and television. People have become so seduced by the myth of hitmen that they accept without question that there are individuals out in society whose murderous services can be procured for the right amount of money. A professor moonlighting for the New Orleans Police Department, Gary is given the opportunity to pose undercover as a hitman as part of a sting operation. The goal is for Gary to meet with prospective employers and get them to incriminate themselves. He proves to be adept at the role, much to the chagrin of the officer he replaces, Jasper (Austin Amelio). Then Gary meets Maddy Masters (Adria Arjona). It’s a meet-cute for the ages.

A nervous Maddy approaches Gary to put a contract out on her violent estranged husband, Ray (Evan Holtzman). Sympathetic to her plight and the victim of an instant attraction, Gary talks her out of hiring him, thereby saving her from arrest. His police cohorts are less-than-pleased by this and Jasper senses an opening to regain his job. Meanwhile, subsequent encounters between Gary and Maddy become more amorous and he debates whether to continue with the façade of playing the hitman or come clean with her.

One of the more enjoyable sections of Hit Man is an extended montage that shows the variety of disguises adopted by Gary so he can represent the “ideal” image of a hitman, which varies from client to client. He’s got a costume and accent for every occasion. The “real” Gary is a fairly meek guy who easily disappears into the characters he plays. (It’s a metaphor for acting in general – the same has often been said of Robert DeNiro, for example.)

The movie can be seen as a rom-com, even though it’s more of a thriller. The chemistry between Powell and co-star Adria Arjona is combustible. It smolders during their first meeting before exploding at a later encounter. As effectively as Powell and Sydney Sweeney meshed in Anyone But You, he and Arjona are better here. Powell has already come into his own; Arjona exhibits star potential. Although she is by no means an “unknown,” having previously appeared in the TV series “Andor” and the lamentable Morbius, her performance here showcases the kind of range that gets actors noticed.

Hit Man is smartly written, with Linklater and Powell deftly melding screwball comedy elements with rom-com beats against a Hitchcockian thriller backdrop. The small twists have big payoffs. Although the movie was made without Netflix money, it was acquired late last year by the streamer and will be given its online debut after a two-week (very) limited theatrical run. The “Netflix” brand isn’t exactly a gold-plated guarantee of quality (too many of their exclusive titles have been overpriced duds) but this is may turn out to be among a collection of the year’s best. It’s certainly the brightest star (thus far) in an otherwise lackluster summer constellation. And its ease-of-access means there’s no excuse not to sit back and enjoy Linklater’s latest addition to an already strong filmography.

Hit Man (United States, 2023)

Run Time: 1:55
U.S. Release Date: 2024-06-07
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence)
Genre: Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1