The HoloFiles

REVIEW: Hit Man

By George & Josh Bate

Hit Man review
Hit Man. (L-R) Adria Arjona as Madison and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson in Hit Man. Cr. Netflix © 2024

Few actors’ stardom has skyrocketed in the manner Glen Powell has in recent years. The Austin native excelled as Hangman in the immense success that was Top Gun: Maverick before co-starring in the underrated war film Devotion and taking social media by storm alongside Sydney Sweeney in the romantic comedy Anyone but You. Before he delivers a starring turn in Twisters this summer, Powell makes the best case yet for being one of the industry’s most promising and magnetic actors in Richard Linklater’s Hit Man.

Premiering at last year’s Venice International FIlm Festival and debuting June 7 on Netflix, Hit Man tells the (somewhat) true story of Gary Johnson (played by Powell), a college professor and part-time tech guy for the New Orleans Police Department leading an uneventful life. The mundanity of Johnson’s life takes a sharp U-turn, however, when he finds himself tasked with being an undercover agent for the police department, posing as a hitman in an attempt to arrest those trying to hire him. Johnson quickly discovers he has knack for going undercover and becomes a reliable tool for the police, theatrically assuming the roles of different assassins as he gathers evidence to arrest people seeking his services. Everything is smooth sailing for Johnson, until he meets a woman (played by Adria Arjona), who wants to hire him to kill her husband.

Hit Man is the latest cinematic endeavor from renowned director Richard Linklater, best known for his films Dazed and Confused and Boyhood. With Hit Man, Linklater constructs his most approachable and universally appealing film in over 20 years (since the brilliant School of Rock in 2003). Hit Man purposefully lacks the dramatic and thematic exploration of the passage of time found in much of Linklater’s work, instead unfolding as an immensely entertaining and kinetic dramedy.

Hit Man review
Hit Man. Glen Powell as Gary Johnson in Hit Man. Cr. Matt Lankes / Netflix © 2024

Linklater co-wrote the script of Hit Man with star Glen Powell, based on a Texas Monthly magazine article of the same name by Skip Hollandsworth. And this screenplay devised by Linklater and Powell is razor sharp. The relatively light-hearted and comedic nature of the film makes it easy to overlook just how meticulously crafted it all is. Every scene has a purpose. Not a moment is wasted. The dialogue is clever and amplifies the amazing chemistry between stars Powell and Arjona. The tone perfectly tackles a rather serious subject matter with enthralling levity. And the plot takes a variety of twists and turns that keep the audience gripped.

All of these positive characteristics of the screenplay become evident in one of the film’s earliest scenes. Powell’s character Gary Johnson is unexpectedly plummeted into the role of undercover hitman when the police officer who usually goes undercover is suspended. What would be a harrowing situation for most becomes something of an awakening for Gary, who seamlessly takes on the role of a hit man and manages to gather evidence to arrest a man trying to hire him with charisma and ease. The scene sets the stage for the forthcoming narrative, but it also masterfully establishes audience expectations for tone. It is light-hearted and witty, while also being centered around a fairly dark subject – people wanting to hire a hitman. And, above all else, this scene, like the rest of the movie, is exhilarating. 

Exhilarating and also charismatic, energetic, and clever, all of which are attributes that not only describe the film itself, but also its two stars – Glen Powell and Adria Arjona. Powell quells any suggestion that his newfound fame is unwarranted with a performance unlike anything he has done before. When introduced, Powell’s Gary is an archetypal loser. He has nerdy glasses, wears jean shorts, teaches boring college classes, is divorced, and devoid of any friends or romantic connections. Admittedly, this version of Gary is a little difficult to buy into in the film as it feels like the filmmakers are really reaching to make Powell so unsuspecting and dull. 

Hit Man. (L to R) Adria Arjona as Madison Masters and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix

But the movie does not end spending much time, relatively speaking, with Gary. This is because Gary takes on the personas and characteristics of various fictional hitmen with a variety of unique costumes, mannerisms, and accents. Powell showcases his acting range with this array of different performances, fluctuating from a professional James Bond-type to a black-eyed Eastern European killer to a patriotic redneck and beyond. So, while the loser archetype of Gary’s genuine personality feels a little hard to believe, the sheer variety in Powell’s performance makes up for any issues. 

One of the hitmen personalities that Gary assumes is the confident, charming, and well-dressed Roy. It is as Roy that Gary meets Maddy, a woman who wants to hire Roy to kill her husband. Maddy’s introduction takes the film in a different direction as Adria Arjona adds a spark to the proceedings and sparks fly between Powell and Arjona’s characters. Powell proves he is a formidable star in Hit Man, and will likely generate much of the attention regarding this film, but entirely doing so would overlook just how excellent Arjona is in this film. Coming off a strong performance in the Star Wars series Andor, and proving to be a shining light in less than stellar projects like Morbius and 6 Underground, Arjona has shown what she is capable of before, although never to the level she does in Hit Man. Arjona’s performance stunningly complements Powell’s and, together, the two stars achieve an electric chemistry that keeps Hit Man alive beyond being a well-made film with an interesting premise.

Hit Man review
Hit Man. Glen Powell as Gary Johnson in Hit Man. Cr. Netflix © 2024

Arjona’s introduction in the film takes Hit Man into romantic comedy territory, while effortlessly avoiding the tropes and pitfalls of this genre blend. Indeed, Hit Man is probably best characterized as a romantic comedy, even if doing so feels reductive for how well done Linklater’s film is. 

Hit Man continues to show how well done it is in an edge-of-your-seat final act as tensions rise and the relationship we’ve come to invest in is at risk. Unfortunately, this final act concludes on a rather dark note, one that feels unfitting for a film so light. Yes, the film is about people wanting to hire a hitman to kill other people, but the subject matter is handled with such levity that the tone never hits the dark depths of its potential. That is until the very end when someone makes a decision that feels inconsistent with the character presented throughout the film and, more generally, inconsistent with the tone of the film. 

Hit Man review
Hit Man. (L to R) Adria Arjona as Madison Masters and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix

VERDICT: 8.5/10

After working with director Richard Linklater for the first time when he was just 18-years-old, Glen Powell reteams with the acclaimed filmmaker for one of the year’s most enthralling movies. Taking liberties with an incredible true story, Hit Man is an intelligently written romantic comedy, a genre blend that may make it easy to overlook the masterful filmmaking craft on display. A razor sharp screenplay, sporting a unique premise and plenty of twists and turns, is excellently brought to life by Glen Powell and Adria Arjona, both of whom deliver career-best performances here. The stars’ electric chemistry elevates what is already an unrelentingly entertaining film, although a final act tonal shift leaves the film on a strange tone. Difficult to believe as the loser Gary, Powell demonstrates his acting strengths in assuming the roles of a variety of colorful hitmen, especially the confident and charming Roy. While this performance affirms that Powell is a rising star worthy of the praise and attention he is currently receiving, don’t overlook Adria Arjona, who produces a performance that matches Powell’s in charm, humor, and confidence.

Hit Man is now streaming on Netflix.

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