Review: Hit Man — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

This funny, engaging comedy thriller is about the roles we all play in our lives; the myriad extremes we go to as we project the persons we want to be.

Hit Man (Netflix)

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Hit Man

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Rating: R

Run Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

Stars: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona

Cowriters: Richard Linklater, Glen Powell, Skip Hollandsworth

Director: Richard Linklater

In theaters and streaming on Netflix

Reviewed at the Toronto International Film Festival


“Hit men don’t really exist,” insists Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), a mild-mannered philosophy professor, at the outset of cowriter-director Richard Linklater’s funny, engaging comedy thriller — among the year’s most delightful movies.

But even though hit men are largely an enduring element of popular fiction — or maybe because of it — an awful lot of folks seek them out to provide a permanent solution to their people problems. An unwanted spouse, a greedy business partner, a rich elderly relative hanging onto their fortunes for too long…you name it, Gary explains, there are endless reasons why someone wants someone else dead.

That’s where Gary comes in. Armed with his academic insights into human behavior, he advises the New Orleans police department as they set up sting operations aimed at catching kill seekers in the act of enlisting lethal assistance. For a long time, Gary lurks behind the scenes, whispering strategies into the earpiece of Jasper (Austin Amelio), a scraggly undercover cop. The routine is all but scripted: Jasper poses as a hit man, meeting suspects in restaurants and sticking around just long enough to accept a downpayment for the dirty deed — at which point the uniformed cops storm the place and march the poor sap off to jail.

For Gary it’s a pretty sweet gig, supplementing his modest professorial wages. But when Jasper is suddenly suspended, the force turns to Gary to replace him as the guy across the table.

At first, Gary (as well as his cop acquaintances) is appalled. But, it turns out, Gary’s psychological instincts and unexpected resourcefulness make him an absolute natural from the start. Shedding his meek persona, he develops a chameleon-like ability to assume precisely the personality and mannerisms each mark is looking for in a hit man. In a hilarious sequence of quick scenes, Gary snares one hapless sucker after another — a pitiful rogue’s gallery of clueless losers who instantly buy his smooth patter and throwaway demeanor, blinded to his obvious duplicity by their amateur bloodlust.

As Gary toggles between his hitman persona and his milquetoast “real” self, it becomes painfully clear that the only time he has any discernable personality is when he’s on the job. (His wife divorced him because he was too, well, Gary.) The truth is, it’s also the only time he really feels alive.

But a monkey wrench arrives in the form of Madison (Adria Arjona), a doe-eyed woman who asks Gary to kill her abusive, and possibly deadly, husband. Smitten, Gary refuses her envelope of money and tells her to use it for a divorce. But wouldn’t you know it: The pair embark on a steamy romance that not only threatens to unravel Gary’s second career, but also might put him in trouble with both a real-life killer and the law.

Powell, whose star has risen in recent films like Anyone But You and Top Gun: Maverick, is perfect as Gary, a character loosely based on a real-life police operative/college professor. When meek little Gary steps seamlessly into the shoes of the slick gun-for-hire, Powell projects the astonishment of a guy who has, without having ever having tried it before, just executed a perfect double somersault backflip. And he follows up with a convincing metamorphosis as the fake killer’s cocky confidence begins to seep into Gary’s daily real-life demeanor. Funny, vulnerable, dashing, and a little dangerous, Powell’s Gary is an indelibly original creation.

Ably keeping pace with Powell’s quick-change caper is Arjona (2022’s Father of the Bride) as the dark-eyed mark-turned-lover-turned-possibly murderous Madison. Like Gary, we’re more than willing to accept Madison in any or all of those roles — a nice flip on Gary’s similarly shifting personas.

Linklater, who co-wrote the script with his star, has always been a great teller of multilayered stories, hatching instant classics like Boyhood, School of Rock, and the Before Sunrise trilogy. So naturally, he’s got more on his mind there than just a comedy-tinged cat-and-mouse adventure yarn.

Hit Man is, in the end, about the roles we all play in our lives; the myriad extremes we go to as we project the persons we want to be — or somehow feel we need to be. Still, at some point, everyone needs to decide which identity is the real deal.

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  1. Saw Hit Man last night. Wasn’t as enamored with the pic as reviewer. While the sex scenes were titillating the rest of the story was kind of boring


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