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Movie Review: ‘Hit Man’ | Moviefone FSalinks

Glen Powell in 'Hit Man'.

Glen Powell in ‘Hit Man’. Photo: Netflix. Copyright: © 2024.

In theaters now and premiering on Netflix June 7 is ‘Hit Man,’ directed by Richard Linklater and starring Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Retta, Austin Amelio, and Sanjay Rao.

Related Article: 10 Things We Learned at the ‘Hit Man’ Press Conference with Cast and Crew

Initial Thoughts

Glen Powell as Gary Johnson in 'Hit Man.'

Glen Powell as Gary Johnson in ‘Hit Man.’ Photo: Netflix © 2024.

Premiering in 2023 at the Venice and Toronto film festivals before being scooped up by Netflix for a reported $20 million, ‘Hit Man’ – kind of like the recent ‘Challengers,’ but very different – is a breath of fresh air: an adult-oriented genre mash-up of rom-com, crime thriller and comedy that’s all the more astounding because it’s partially based on a true story.

Directed by Richard Linklater (‘School of Rock’) with a verve that’s been missing from some of his recent work, and starring Glen Powell in another star-making turn as a humdrum academic who rediscovers his passion and confidence by pretending to be a smoldering assassin, ‘Hit Man’ is smart, sensual, character-driven, and highly entertaining.

Story and Direction

Adria Arjona as Madison, director and co-writer Richard Linkletter, co-writer Glen Powell as Gary Johnson, and director of photography Shane F. Kelly.

(L to R) Adria Arjona as Madison, director and co-writer Richard Linkletter, co-writer Glen Powell as Gary Johnson, and director of photography Shane F. Kelly. Photo: Brian Rondel / Courtesy of Netflix.

‘Hit Man’ is based partially on an article of the same name, written by Skip Hollingsworth, that appeared in Texas Monthly magazine in 2001. It told the story of Gary Johnson, a college professor who moonlighted with the New Orleans police department first as a surveillance tech and then as an undercover agent himself, part of a sting operation set up to nab people looking to hire a hitman to off someone who had become an irritant in their lives.

What Johnson discovered is also what his screen counterpart, played by Glen Powell, discovers: that he has a genuine knack for not just undercover work, but inhabiting different personalities according to what he thinks the target will respond to. As the film begins, Johnson – lonely, divorced, boring his students and, whether he wants to admit it or not, boring himself – is thrust into his first undercover role when the usual front man, Jasper (a slippery Austin Amelio), is benched after beating on some alleged perps. Much to his surprise, Gary gets into the ‘tough guy’ persona he comes up with on the spot – and the head of his team (Retta) is pleased enough to recommend he keep doing it.

As Gary moves forward, he begins donning different costumes for each sting: in one of the movie’s funniest ongoing gags, they reference everyone from Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman in ‘American Psycho’ to Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh from ‘No Country for Old Men.’ But while disguised as a cool, suave, and yes, sexy assassin named Ron (Ron wears black tank tops under shirts open halfway down his chest, his hair swept back, while Gary dresses in flannels, khakis, and glasses, his hair flopping over his face), Gary meets a woman named Madison (Adria Arjona), who is looking to have her abusive husband killed.

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell in 'Hit Man'.

(L to R) Adria Arjona and Glen Powell in ‘Hit Man’. Photo: Netflix. Copyright: © 2024.

Gary, as “Ron,” talks Madison out of going forward with her plan, surprising both himself and the members of his team listening in. But no one is more surprised than Gary when he – or rather, “Ron” – reconnects with a newly-separated Madison and begins a steamy relationship with her. From that point on, the story takes multiple twists, and no one – least of all Gary, who is finding it increasingly difficult to figure out where he ends and “Ron” begins – is exactly what they seem.

Linklater directs all this with a sure hand, confident in the material, the characters, and his actors but adding a little flash here and there with a comic montage or two. What works best about ‘Hit Man’ is its unpredictability: the movie shifts from romance to crime caper to psychological exploration without ever feeling like it’s taken too jarring a turn, which is a credit again both to the balancing of tone in both Linklater’s direction and the script by him and Powell.

There is perhaps one false note at the end of the picture – a bit of moral ambiguity that is not quite resolved – but in the final analysis, it works within the context of the rest of the story and, if anything, adds a nice touch of subversion to a movie that already lightly subverts some well-worn genre tropes.

The Cast

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell in 'Hit Man'.

(L to R) Adria Arjona and Glen Powell in ‘Hit Man’. Photo: Netflix. Copyright: © 2024.

Glen Powell has obviously been around for a minute (he’s worked with Linklater several times already), but his breakout work in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ and his leading man turn in last year’s ‘Anyone But You’ has positioned him as one of Hollywood’s next big things. Frankly, he deserves it: ‘Hit Man’ features Powell at his most winning, with Gary a complex, compelling, and attractive protagonist who is empathetic and believable from the get-go even as his personal situation becomes more trying. His evolution from nerdy, existentially fuzzy Gary to confident, even swaggering Ron – and then fusing the two from there – is organic and expertly portrayed.

He and Adria Arjona have instant, off-the-chart chemistry from the start, an ingredient that helps make their love scenes in ‘Hit Man’ more sensual than some of the other screen romance we’ve seen in recent times. We last saw Arjona in a thankless role in 2022’s forgettable ‘Morbius,’ and here she’s much more alluring, sparkling, and funnier. But the character of Madison is somewhat undercooked: she goes from a relationship in which she has absolutely no agency to one in which…she kind of has no agency, waiting in her apartment for “Ron” to come around so they can get busy. There are some subtle reveals to the character later that help flesh Madison out, but she doesn’t come quite as fully to life as Gary.

The supporting cast is gold, led by Retta as the no-nonsense Claudette and Austin Amelio as the calculating, untrustworthy Jasper. And let’s not forget to mention the parade of suspects that Gary gets locked up through the sting operation – sure, some of them are no more than easily recognizable archetypes, but they each get a funny moment or two.

Final Thoughts

Glen Powell in 'Hit Man'.

Glen Powell in ‘Hit Man’. Photo: Netflix. Copyright: © 2024.

Light and sure on its feet, ‘Hit Man’ also touches on some heavy questions: Who are we and how many different layers are there to our personalities? Are we really the best version of ourselves and if not, how do we get there? These musings are sprinkled liberally through the film, but the philosophical underpinnings don’t slow down what is still essentially a romp, bolstered by well-drawn characters and a powerhouse lead turn. If a movie like ‘Hit Man’ finds it harder to exist in movie theaters, the industry is truly having an existential crisis of its own.

‘Hit Man’ receives 8 out of 10 stars.

“He’s not a killer, but he can pretend.”

R1 hr 55 minOct 3rd, 2023

Showtimes & Tickets

A mild-mannered professor moonlighting as a fake contract killer sparks a chain reaction of trouble when he falls for a client. Read the Plot

What is the plot of ‘Hit Man’?

New Orleans college professor Gary Johnson (Glen Powell) moonlights for the police department as a fake hitman, using multiple disguises to catch people looking to have someone in their lives killed off. But after he talks a beautiful woman (Adria Arjona) out of ordering a hit on her husband — while disguised as a smoldering hitman named Ron — Gary gets caught in an identity crisis that leads him to wonder just who he really is.

Who is in the cast of ‘Hit Man’?

  • Glen Powell as Gary Johnson
  • Adria Arjona as Madison Masters
  • Austin Amelio as Jasper
  • Retta as Claudette
  • Sanjay Rao as Phil
  • Evan Holtzman as Ray Masters
Adria Arjona and Glen Powell in 'Hit Man'. Photo: Netflix.

(L to R) Adria Arjona and Glen Powell in ‘Hit Man’. Photo: Netflix. Copyright: © 2024.

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