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‘Hit Man’ review: Somewhat true story is nice mix of comedy and thriller

Richard Linklater and Glen Powell tackle the peculiar true story of a fake hitman.

When you look at the thirty-year-plus filmography of indie guru Richard Linklater, he has only directed three films that centered on true crime narratives. Whereas his first Hollywood feature, 1998’s The Newton Boys, received mixed reviews while tanking at the box office, 2011’s Bernie had the quirks to rival the Coen Brothers, mixing documentary conventions with fictional elements, as well as featuring a career-best performance from Jack Black. Linklater co-wrote that film with Skip Hollandsworth, who wrote the article that reported on the true case for Texas Monthly magazine, the same publication where Hollandsworth wrote another piece. 

Based on Hollandsworth’s 2001 article of the same name, Linklater’s latest feature Hit Man tells the “somewhat true story” of Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), a college professor who also works as a part-time staffer with the New Orleans Police Department. As he suddenly finds himself in the role of posing undercover as a reliable hitman with the goal of arresting those trying to hire him, he discovers he has a talent for it and revels in a position where he experiments with often-humorous costumes, accents, and mannerisms. However, he finds himself romantically entangled with a woman (Adria Arjona) who wants to hire him to kill her abusive husband.

From its opening text, Hit Man states that it is playing loose with the truth, and even when the story is leaning into something dark as seen in the climax, the closing text immediately tells you that they made that part up. While the ending itself is a bit of a cop-out, this also cements the cheeky tone that Linklater and his star/co-writer Glen Powell are playing with throughout the film. It is a nice balance of comedy and thriller, which usually has Johnson awkwardly finding himself with sticky situations, including being confronted by an antagonist. 

Similar to what Linklater was doing with Bernie, Hit Man serves as a character study about an unlikely man suddenly find himself on the wrong side of the law, even if in Gary Johnson’s case, he is supposed to be serving the law without actually wearing a badge. Due to his involvement in the script, Powell is having a lot of fun in a central role that not only narrates throughout, but also revels in the many disguises that play into the many archetypes that you associate with hitmen in the movies. From the ridiculous costuming to the accents ranging from Russian to British, Glen Powell showcases how versatile and hilarious he can be. 

Having shown his charisma as a leading rom-com star in last year’s sleeper hit Anyone but You, Powell brings some of that energy here, where he has a great chemistry with Adria Arjona, who redeemed herself after the 2022 disaster Morbius. While the role of Maddy is slightly underwritten in how you never really get inside her head like you do with Gary, Arjona achieves a lot where she can be sexy, nervous and even untrustworthy. Like a good romantic comedy, you need to have a strong supporting cast, and again they are not the most well-written, but performers like Austin Amelio and Retta shine as the officers working alongside Gary.

hit man
‘Hit Man’ review: Somewhat true story is nice mix of comedy and thriller
Hit Man
A peculiar take on the true crime narrative, Hit Man is a fun addition to Richard Linklater’s accomplished filmography, whilst his co-writer Glen Powell continues to prove himself as a true movie star.
Reader Rating0 Votes
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Due to his involvement in the script, Glen Powell is having a lot of fun in a central role that plays with multiple roles...
...whilst giving plenty of rom-com energy through his chemistry with a terrific Adria Arjona.
Playing loose with the truth towards a strange sunject matter, Linklater has a nice balance between comedy and thriller...
...even if the script doesn't quite reach the darkness that it teased throughout, especially its ending.
8
Good

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