‘Hit Man’ Review: Point Blank Fake

Aaron Neuwirth reviews Hit Man, a highly enjoyable Richard Linklater film focused on an average guy posing as a paid assassin.
User Rating: 8

There’s fun to be had when combining crime or noir-ish tales with the outline of a romantic comedy. Whether looking to Hitchcock or post-Pulp Fiction cult favorites such as Grosse Pointe Blank or Out of Sight, it’s an area that’s engaging and inherently stylish based on a certain moral flexibility given to the characters that aim to keep audiences happy and not appalled. Director Richard Linklater is perhaps an unlikely choice to entertain this sort of setup. Yet, Hit Man finds him at his most likable. That said, as much as this works as a lighthearted farce with some thrilling moments, there’s more beneath the surface that speaks to what the film is after. This comes from Linklater’s familiar sensibilities emerging from this whip-smart screenplay, with a very game star ready to kill it.

One key separation from other features is that this movie doesn’t play as a glamorization of the assassin profession because it’s not actually present. Loosely based on actual events detailed in an article by Skip Hollandsworth in Texas Monthly, Glen Powell stars as the mild-mannered Gary Johnson. He’s a college professor who enjoys his cats and birding. That said, Gary is also a tech guy for the New Orleans Police Department, eventually given a shot to work as an undercover mole posing as a hitman. You see, if he can get those seeking his employment to speak to their murderous intentions, they can be arrested.

See Also: ‘The Fall Guy’ Review: Explosive Stunts, Dynamite Chemistry

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Fortunately for Gary, he’s a natural at this, going as far as putting on elaborate costumes and using accents to better match with his “clients.” However, he meets his match with Madison Masters (Adria Arjona). Seeing her request as more of a cry for help to get away from an abusive husband as opposed to a femme fatale with a desire to kill, his fake persona, “Roy,” convinces her to call off her plans. The two also hit it off, becoming a secret couple, with danger inevitably finding a way to make things even more complicated than they already are.

On the surface, alone, Hit Man is a lot of fun. Powell, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Linklater, excels with his work here. While you get the sense that he’s a nice guy, the way this film wants to play into his continued potential immersion as a big Hollywood star and how he can be seen as a non-descript guy who can leave a scenario without leaving an impression is an excellent meta-joke. It’s elaborated on well by his co-workers (a hilarious Retta and Sanjay Rao), police officers that hype Gary up to play an assassin by essentially taking him down in how they talk about his appearance.

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With that in mind, the notion of playing a fake hitman and approaching it with such elaborate character work speaks even more to the idea of what it means to be an actor. Fittingly, Gary teaches philosophy, and the film spends just the right amount of time focusing on his lectures to students regarding the human capacity to change. With so many possibilities regarding where this story could go, it’s no surprise to see a Linklater film put in time with the characters having honest conversations and moments of consideration about what speaks to who someone is in life.

This plays well with the movie’s romantic side. As a skewed way of perpetuating the antics connected to Gary’s newly discovered calling in life, we have first-rate chemistry found between Powell and Arjona to make this portion of the story shine as well. With all of Gary’s discussions of id and ego, Powell leans into how to make “Roy” a confident, ideal version of who Gary is. Still, the film doesn’t aim to make it all that simple. Again, there’s enough subtlety here to prioritize the fun. Plus, that winning chemistry has the side effect of letting a modern film stay away from avoiding the attraction characters have to one another, and engaging as such.

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Looking at all of this and trying to figure out where it will go is a good part of the excitement, but it’s clear Hit Man is designed to keep the wheels turning. There’s simplicity in the presentation (Linklater is more about ideal camera placement and tracking than he is about elaborate setups), yet there’s a real energy that feels like moments are coming spur of the moment at times. A lot of that is on Powell, who, particularly in the back half, must rely on figuring things out on the spot, playing off multiple parties understanding of who he is supposed to be. Without delving any further into where this story takes everyone, it speaks to how the noir-ish side of this film is able to come out effectively, even with humor still being the primary driving force, dry as it may be at times.

In a proper world, Hit Man would go from a festival favorite to a theatrical success based on the sheer enthusiasm extending from all the buzz, its cast, the appealing blend of genres, and more. As it stands, while I’m well aware that it’s hard to get audiences to go to the theaters for anything that’s not an event these days, seeing such a crowd-pleasing film like this go straight to Netflix is a bit of a shame. Still, there’s a lot of enjoyment in taking a shot at pressing play on Hit Man. It finds Linklater in a very playful yet clever mood, with terrific work by Powell, who really gets to the heart of a film that should be a big hit.

Hit Man opens in select theaters on May 24, 2024, and will be available to stream on Netflix starting June 7.

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8
Great
Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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