Hit Man (2023)
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenwriter: Richard Linklater, Glen Powell
Starring: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Retta, Sanjay Rao, Austin Amelio, Molly Bernard
There’s an undeniable star quality to Glen Powell; as Hangman in Top Gun: Maverick, Finnegan in Everybody Wants Some, and John Glenn in Hidden Figures, Powell presents an assured all-American charm reminiscent of the early work of actors such as George Clooney and Richard Gere. His cocky smile and magnetic screen presence make him an easy actor to trust and spend time with. Although he pops up here and there in supporting roles, Powell is an actor we are collectively ready to see more from. With Hit Man, his newest collaboration with Richard Linklater (The Before Trilogy, School of Rock), Powell finally shows off the full extent of what he can do.
Hit Man, co-written by Powell and Linklater following their collaboration on stoner-baseball comedy Everybody Wants Some, is a perky action-comedy based on a true-crime article by Skip Hollingsworth. It follows Gary Johnson, a mild-mannered philosophy professor, and the twist of fate that leads him to become a fake contract killer for the New Orleans police department. While the police wait outside to make arrests, Gary leads a series of successful sting operations, luring in a slew of angry husbands, wives, criminals and coworkers, all looking to pay for murderous revenge. In lively voiceover narration, Gary often reminds us that contract killers don’t really exist, but he excels at his job because he understands what people are looking for. Gary looks to fulfil the individual fantasies of his targets, incorporating prosthetics, fashion, vivid detail and personality makeovers into his roles, landing an arrest each time.
Gary is on a winning streak until he meets Maddy Masters (Adria Arjona: Morbius, 6 Underground), a disgruntled wife who is sick of her husband’s controlling behaviour. After researching Maddy, Gary creates a new alter-ego named Ron to be her personalised contract killer. Ron is a sexually confident, easy-on-the-eye gentleman with a tough-guy edge. Even Gary’s co-workers agree that Ron is something special. However, after hearing about the hard time Maddy is going through, Ron takes pity on her, and so that she can avoid arrest, he encourages her to take the money she was willing to spend on killing her husband and use it to leave and start a new life. Everything goes well until Maddy gets back in touch, and the pair begin to date. When he and Maddy are together, Gary adopts his confident killer alter-ego, and as time slips by, eventually, the lines between Gary and Ron start to blur.
There’s so much fun to Richard Linklater’s work; he’s a director who uncompromisingly makes whatever he wants to make. From stoner comedies to twelve-year passion projects, Linklater approaches all his filmmaking with a sense of ownership. Although we’re never too sure what to expect from him as a storyteller, we can be confident that Linklater will always pull out the stops and throw himself into any project. This could not be more true for Hit Man; Powell and Linklater take a risky leap and just keep running. The result is hilarious and wildly surprising. Throughout the movie, we are never sure which corner they are going to turn next, and it’s so exciting to see the payoff of their commitment to this character and his wild journey.
Glen Powell shines in the lead role, showing off a range of talent in comedy, action and improvisation. The film allows him space to play around with a variety of contract killer characters, from a Hannibal Lecter-type psycho to a gun-touting redneck. We can visibly see him having fun with his characters, and there is a sense that Linklater has given him the freedom to experiment and throw around ideas. It’s also fun to see him play Gary, the meek, jean-shorts-wearing, sensible philosophy teacher who seems like the complete antithesis of the charming Hollywood star. He plays his double agent act almost too well, making for riotous fun when his alter-ego Ron faces a task he’s supposedly a pro at, like shooting targets or fighting. Powell holds his own against a hilarious supporting cast. As his police co-workers, Sanjay Rao and ‘Parks and Recreation’ star Retta ground the script in comedy. With their great deadpan timing, they often pull the narrative back where it needs to be and give the proceedings a light and silly air. In his first major leading role, Powell cements himself as an actor unwilling to take himself too seriously, and he is thrilling to watch throughout. Hit Man is his most entertaining role so far, and it’s exciting to think what will come next for this emerging star.
It’s often hard to predict where Linklater will go as a filmmaker. The Before Trilogy and Boyhood feel worlds apart from School of Rock and Dazed and Confused. Yet, no matter his project, Linklater always feels present within his work, focusing his lens wherever there is a story to tell. He often focuses on loose and easy narratives, particularly regarding the passage of time – his timescale being anywhere between one day and twelve years. Hit Man. although infused with comedy, asks whether a person can change over time. Through a battle between the Superego and the ID, can we become the people we want to be? Can we change the foundations of who we are? Richard Linklater’s Hit Man presents a hilarious action-packed adventure in an attempt to answer this question, and the result is one of the most fun and original movies in years.