'Hit Man' Oughta Be a Hit, Man

Directed by Richard Linklater

Starring Glen Powell, Adria Arjona

BY Rachel HoPublished May 20, 2024


I had mixed feelings after hearing that Netflix had purchased Richard Linklater's Hit Man coming out of TIFF last year: thrilled that a film I enjoyed so thoroughly received a massive payday, but bummed that a Netflix acquisition would almost certainly mean little to no theatrical play. Sure enough, here we are eight months later with a meagre two-week theatrical window carved out before its Netflix premiere. A good film will be enjoyed regardless of its delivery system, but, undoubtedly, Hit Man is best enjoyed among a crowd.

Based on an article from Texas Monthly magazine written by Skip Hollandsworth — who co-wrote Bernie with Linklater in 2011 — Hit Man follows Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), a New Orleans professor with the uncanny ability to convincingly adopt different personas and identities. The local police force capitalize on this skill by hiring Gary as a fake hitman to catch those looking to contract a killer.

Co-writers Linklater and Powell are very aware of how silly the premise comes across, and they lean into it at full tilt. Ham-fisted characters are drawn up and executed by Powell beautifully, with would-be contractors playing up the dumb-criminal trope. However, Hit Man never goes full slapstick comedy or even satire. By building the film with neo-noir elements, there's an elegant sophistication to the film that elevates it beyond any one particular genre.

The nature of the script presents a healthy challenge to Powell as an actor, one which he tackles head-on. Top Gun: Maverick and Anyone but You put eyes on Powell and deservedly so, but it'll be Hit Man that certifies the actor as the current It Guy for studios to build franchises off of (hello Twisters) and indie directors to create interesting characters.

The most enjoyable part of Hit Man, though, comes from the chemistry between Powell and his co-star Adria Arjona, playing Madison, a would-be criminal seeking Gary's services (or as Madison knows him to be, Ron). As two people falling for each other in extraordinary circumstances, Powell and Arjona are simply on fire. Their steamy love scenes aside, the two of them create such a compelling dynamic on screen that I could've watched six seasons and a three-hour movie of their back-and-forth.

Prior to the surprising underperformance of Fall Guy, I'd have felt confident in saying Hit Man would be a guaranteed box office success. Everything about the film lends itself to being a crowd-pleasing, buzz-creating commercial hit: it's funny, lead by charismatic leads and sexy as hell — almost as if the director behind Dazed and Confused and School of Rock navigated the ups and downs of cinematic commercial viability.

But in the era of algorithms and clicks, Hit Man will have to contend with being a streaming sensation; not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. Rather than swim against a changing tide, Linklater's only adapting to the inevitable. For those theatrical experience advocates among us, though, Hit Man exemplifies why we still go to the cinema: when clever humour and engaging performances hit, they hit hard.


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