Hit Man Is Another Home Run for Richard Linklater

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

Richard Linklater hits it out of the park once again with current It Man Glen Powell in their new genre-bender, Hit Man, launching on Netflix. Yes, I went there. After all, Linklater is one of those filmmakers who comes with high expectations. Add Glen Powell into the mix and the expectations only rise–he’s pulling off things here that are worthy of an Oscar nomination! Seriously. It is one of the best films of the year and I do not say this lightly.

There’s a universe where this film could be a smash hit in theaters. Unfortunately, movie tickets are way too expensive these days, leading more people to stay at home. Netflix may have given the film the required theatrical release to qualify for the Oscars but let’s not kid ourselves: more people will watch the film from their home than in theaters. It’s a contributing factor in why my review is arriving as the film hits the streamer. But even as I was watching the film on my TV, I was thinking how much better it would play in a communal audience setting.

The gist of the film is that a professor, Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), works as a fake hit man for the New Orleans Police Department. It’s going well for the most part as he meets potential clients whole eating pie at a diner. “All pie is good pie” is the key for clients to know that they’re in the right place. Gary’s disguise and personality changes from gig to gig but at the end of the day, someone wants somebody else dead and they will be in trouble with the law. But in any event, one potential client, Madison (Adria Arjona), ends up being more than that. For starters, Gary starts leaning into his fake hit man identity as he keeps falling hard for Madison. The fact that he gives her advice on what to do rather than arrest her is what makes her different from the rest.

Madison is different from the rest. Yes, she wants her husband dead but it’s also a case of being in a bad marriage. It’s perfectly understandable that divorces can be busy. Gary meets her in his Ron persona but after their initial meeting, Madison makes some big changes…and then they run into Madison’s ex while on a date. The script takes a rather fascinating turn after this. After this point is where Linklater and Powell’s script really becomes a genre-bender. The comedy of the situation just writes itself. It’s for the best, really.

Perhaps what’s most interesting about the people hiring a hit man in the film is that they think they can just find someone just like that. Per Richard Linklater, it does not work that way in the real world. What makes it all the more funnier is that some of these people just do not fit the criminal profile. Well, a few of them might but that could also come down to a combo of casting and the hair and makeup team doing a fabulous job. Linklater and Powell read a piece in Texas Monthly–at different times–and the rest is history. The core piece of the film does lean into the real Gary Johnson meeting a woman who wants her husband dead. At the same time, it is not a true biopic. They jump off with the love story and take the film in its own direction.

The film is really a mix of several film genres. I’ll turn it over to Linklater’s comments in the press notes rather than summarize it:

“The film hits a lot of notes — comedy, noir, thriller, psychological study — while examining most of all the concept of identity and how fixed our personalities may or may not be. I always approached it like a film noir or a little bit of a sexy thriller. We’re just a mix of genres, but comedy over everything else. I think that’s an attribute of the movie, that it’s not a short sound bite what it’s about, because it’s about a lot of things.”

I’ll just add that there are elements here that fall under elements of the classic screwball comedy genre. Screwball comedies might feel like a thing of the past but they can still be fun. In terms of what Linklater says about comedy, he’s not lying. There are a number of  situations here that had me in laughter. But anyway, the longer the deception lasts, and the more that stakes keep rising the further we get into the film. Not many filmmakers can pull off the many genres in the film and at the same time. That’s something that makes Hit Man feel so fresh. In the hands of another filmmaker, it would be a completely different film!

Hit Man seamlessly weaves many genres together but Glen Powell and Adria Arjona’s performances only elevate the material. Given their on-screen chemistry, one hopes they can work together again.

DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater
SCREENWRITERS: Richard Linklater and Glen Powell
CAST: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio, Retta, Sanjay Rao, Molly Bernard, Evan Holtzman, Gralen Bryant Banks

Netflix released Hit Man in theaters on May 17, 2024 and starts streaming the film on June 7, 2024. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.