Richard Linklater is one of today’s most acclaimed modern American filmmakers. Known for Dazed and Confused, Boyhood, and the Before Trilogy, Linklater’s work is quite eclectic as he traverses back and forth between human drama and lively comedy. His latest, Hit Man, is an action comedy that is by far his funniest movie yet. Led by Top Gun: Maverick star Glen Powell, Hit Man is a wild riot that is sure to have audiences howling in laughter.
Gary Johnson (Glen Powell) is your average divorced college professor. His two cats Id and Ego round up his mundane lifestyle. When needing extra money, he finds himself working part-time for the New Orleans Police Department. Gary is given the job of monitoring the microphones as dirty cop Jasper (Austin Amelio) runs a stunt pretending to be a hitman for hire, catching those criminals with the intent of killing someone. However, when Jasper is suspended for misconduct, Gary is haphazardly thrown in as his replacement. Against all odds, Gary hilariously turns out to be a natural and soon becomes the NOPD’s go-to pretend contract killer.
Gary goes deeper into the criminal underworld with each of these staged assassin setups, disguising himself in costumes akin to the person who is supposed to be hiring him. That is until he breaks protocol by giving some valuable advice to a prospective client named Maddy Masters (Adria Arjona) who is trying to hire him to take out her abusive husband Ray (Evan Holtzman). The two form an instant bond and meet up again shortly after their first encounter, despite Gary still acting as one of his alter egos. What follows is tricky for Gary as he tries to maneuver working for the law while also having a relationship with an ex-suspect. But when a person linked to the two of them unexpectedly dies, things go off the rails in the most memorable ways possible.
Writer-director Richard Linklater has made something truly special with this blend of humor, action, and suspense. And he’s not the only one who deserves immense praise because of this. The script, inspired by the true story uncovered in the Texas Monthly article “Hit Man” by journalist Skip Hollandsworth, was co-written by Linklater and lead actor Glen Powell. Linklater’s 2011 biographical drama Bernie, led by Jack Black, was also based on an investigative report written by Hollandsworth in the same magazine. Hit Man marks the director and actor’s fourth collaboration after Fast Food Nation, Everybody Wants Some!!, and last year’s Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood.
Audiences are bound to fall in love with Glen Powell’s brilliant leading performance as the mild-mannered school teacher turned faux hitman. Powell is sleek and cool in his transition to his character’s multiple alternate identities. The little flourishes in his facial expressions make him so likable and believable, despite how ridiculous his personas can be. But the persona of “Ron” captures the attention of Adria Arjona’s Madison. The two have instant chemistry and it’s almost as if their first meeting was decided by fate.
The risky nature of their heated romance is a turn-on for Madison. For Gary, though, it’s a confidence boost as he perceives himself to be unworthy of someone in her league. It’s only under the guise of Ron, who is assured and sexy, that he can be the assured leading man she needs. The precarious nature of their spicey relationship keeps one always hooked on the story, it’s an enticing yet uneasy dynamic as Gary continuously runs the risk of being exposed.
Linklater’s frequent cinematographer Shane F. Kelly captures every interaction between Glen Powell and Adria Arjona supremely well. The two stars share great loads of natural chemistry, so the screen is always a delight to stare at as Kelly leaves room for the actor’s charm to ooze through his simplistic, yet sleek images. Likewise, editor Sandra Adair is the mastermind behind the seamless transitions between Gary’s normal teaching life and his darker, more dicey endeavors in disguise.
Glen Powell and Adria Arjona have serious comedic chops as well as enough charisma to steal the hearts of all of those watching. Hit Man has all the makings of a classic screwball comedy, with a few extra elements of action thrillers and even noir thrown in. With excellent writing that finds a fine balance between being thrilling and tense with its absurd sense of humor, Hit Man is nothing less than a rapturous time at the cinema. It’s almost as if this could only be the next chapter of a thriving creative partnership between Linklater and Powell, who both impressively prove that they’ve got plenty of more creative range to explore.
Hit Man couldn’t be more different from Richard Linklater’s previous iconic comedies like School of Rock or Dazed and Confused. Linklater flaunts his versatility as a filmmaker. No matter the genre, he always delivers. Going back to the comedy on display, the filmmaker is knowingly self-referential to the acting process with how his leading characters go about their private lives. One amazing scene shows this perfectly, wherein Powell’s Gary knows the cops are listening in and the two leads are forced to improvise a heated argument that will leave any crowd in tears or laughter. There is something so hilarious about unpeeling the layers of Powell and Arjona’s performances, the pair are acting twofold which makes their interactions twice as witty. Hit Man is, without a doubt, one of the best comedies of the year.