‘Hit Man’ movie review: Glen Powell hits the mark in sultry Linklater romedy

Richard Linklater’s latest is a smart, provocative rom-com that dives into professional ethics and human morality, but its efficacy draws on some nostalgic old-school sex appeal from the Powell-Arjona duet

Updated - June 08, 2024 11:25 am IST

Published - June 08, 2024 11:17 am IST

A still from Netflix’s ‘Hit Man’

A still from Netflix’s ‘Hit Man’

Not since the final outing in Richard Linklater’s adored Before trilogy over a decade ago has the American director produced an addition to the rom-com genre as invigorating as Hit Man. A measured blend of smart humor, seductive undertones, and a delightful lead performance from Glen Powell, the Boyhood director’s twenty-third feature film, presents a sexy, offbeat rebranding of film noir.

The film’s buoyant confidence pulls us into the unusual life of Powell’s Gary Johnson; a psychology professor-turned-faux hit man for the New Orleans police department. The film works as Linklater’s sly commentary on the genre of hitman cinema, mischievously subverting expectations and critiquing the notion of the lone assassin as a cultural myth.

Hit Man (English)
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio, and Retta
Runtime: 115 minutes
Storyline: Professional killer Gary Johnson breaks protocol to help a desperate woman trying to flee an abusive husband and finds himself falling for her

Powell, who also co-wrote and produced, sheds the machismo typecast that the high-octane Top Gun academy seems to have thrust upon him and delivers a fresh tour de force. Sporting a dorky hairdo and penchant for explicating Nietzsche, Jung and more philosophical schools of thought, Gary seems an unlikely candidate for the criminal underworld. By day, the ironies of inspiring his students with quotes about living dangerously don’t seem lost upon the avid birdwatcher: the highlight of his day involves a lonesome dinner with his (cats) Id and Ego. When thrust into the role of an undercover hitman for hire however, Gary displays an unexpected talent for duplicity, morphing into a master of disguise, a man with many faces.

The film’s narrative, inspired by a true story, explores the dichotomy between Gary’s unassuming daytime existence and his exhilarating nocturnal activities. The real Gary Johnson, whose life inspired the film, never crossed the line into actual murder, instead using his talents to ensnare those who sought his lethal services. Powell captures this chameleon-like quality with effortless charm, toggling between Gary’s everyday nerdiness and his theatrical alter-egos with the ease that evokes the early “rubberface” impersonations of Jim Carrey.

A still from ‘Hit Man’

A still from ‘Hit Man’

His transformation scenes, where he dons outlandish costumes and adopts various accents, are pure comedic gold, each one more outrageous than the last. Powell throws himself into his roles with gusto, experimenting with everything from flamboyant accents to hyper-detailed backstories. The costumes are equally inventive — Gary switches from biker leather to psychopathic jumpsuits, from suave, suit-clad Patrick Bateman (from American Psycho) to a disheveled, down-on-his-luck, red-neck drifter.

Gary’s expertise in psychology shines through as he tailors his characters to the psyche of each would-be client, creating personas that are convincing and diverse. His performances are so over-the-top that even his usually stoic police handlers can’t suppress their laughter (and sometimes their libidos). Yet, beneath the costumes and accents, Powell keeps a thread of Gary’s true self visible — an awkward, fundamentally decent man who’s just a bit too eager to live out his undercover fantasies. It’s a balancing act that Powell handles with aplomb, ensuring that each disguise feels like an extension of Gary’s repressed desires and latent talents, rather than a simple costume change.

The film’s romantic subplot features Andor star Adria Arjona as Maddy, a woman desperate to rid herself of an abusive ex. When Gary, posing as the suave hitman “Ron,” convinces her to reconsider her drastic plan, sparks fly in the most unexpected of places. Powell seamlessly shifts between Gary’s bumbling earnestness and Ron’s confident swagger, perfectly complementing Arjona’s portrayal of Maddy’s vulnerability. Each sensual interaction is magnetic, with flirtatious quips exchanged in dimly lit bars, steamy moments of bedroom cosplay and stolen glances that accentuate the Hawke-Delpy sexual tension Linklater fans have come to know and love.

A still from ‘Hit Man’

A still from ‘Hit Man’

Gradually, Gary’s journey becomes increasingly complex. His relationship with Maddy deepens, blurring the lines between his real and assumed identities. This culminates in a climactic showdown that keeps you on edge; Powell and Arjona’s chemistry reaches its zenith here, their performances imbuing the scene with a heady concoction of passion and built-up tension.

No Linklater feature seems complete without philosophical musings, whether alluded or explicit. The film touches upon themes of identity, morality, and the constructs of self, drawing on Gary’s academia to enrich its motifs. However, these elements are handled with a lightness of touch that thankfully doesn’t teeter towards morose existential angst.

Hit Man is a smart, sexy rom-com that puts Powell’s recent on-screen tryst with Sydney Sweeney to shame. It’s a relatively safer Linklater excursion that dives into professional ethics and human morality, but its efficacy draws on some nostalgic old-school sex appeal from the Powell-Arjona duet.

Hit Man is currently streaming on Netflix

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