Review: ‘Hit Man

Glen Powell Shoots Nothing But Bullseyes In Richard Linklater's Hilarious Assassin Comedy

*NOTE: This review was originally part of our Sundance Film Festival coverage.*

Okay, I can admit when I’m wrong. For quite a while I’ve been saying that Glen Powell, who I have interviewed and think is pretty awesome, will probably always be an actor THIS CLOSE to being a superstar. He’ll be successful, have tons of fans like he already does, but that will be about as far as it goes. I take it all back, because in Richard Linklater’s assassin comedy Hit Man he is absolutely incredible, showing levels of humor and dramatic range, and the ability to play multiple roles with ease. Handled correctly by Netflix who will release the film this summer, Hit Man will be the movie that takes Powell to the moon.

Powell does more than just act in Hit Man, too. Teaming up with Linklater on the script, loosely based on a Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth, Powell is investing quite a bit into this passion project. He plays Gary Johnson, a philosophy professor who leans more to the dorky/uncool side. But his side gig is Hella cool, because that’s when he cosplays as a hitman-for-hire, luring would-be killers to their inevitable capture by the Texas police. Using a variety of disguises so random and absurd (my favorite, the stiff British killer who resembles Tilda Swinton), Gary becomes a master at the hitman con game. He makes it all up as he goes along, adding the kind of exacting details that would make a serial killer stand up and take notice. Fine-tuning each character to the client, Gary knows exactly what he has to say and do to get them to incriminate themselves.

But it’s his fake persona, Ron, the coolest and most capable of all of his hitman personas, who wins over Madison (Adria Arjona), a gorgeous client looking to off her controlling husband. When they meet, Gary can’t fully be Ron, because Madison isn’t like the others. She’s a desperate woman looking for a way out of an abusive marriage. The Gary side comes out, and he convinces her not to go through with it. Before long, they are in the midst of a passionate affair, but Madison thinks he is Ron…and to a certain extent, he is. There is performance in all of it, but not just on Gary’s side, but also on Madison’s.

In Gary’s classes, he likes to tackle the idea of identity, asking his students “What if your self is a construct”? We see Gary constructing the persona he wants to be because Ron is the cool, sexy, capable guy that he isn’t. Gary knows that Madison is attracted to Ron, so that’s who he’ll be. Before long, the lines begin to blur and we aren’t sure whether we’re watching Gary or Ron.

There’s a battle between the Id and the Superego that Linklater and Powell set up, then have way too much fun following through with. Because Gary has lied his way into a world where people die all of the time, it isn’t long before someone does. The joy in Hit Man is in watching Gary navigate this world, while also trying to be himself, live his normal life, and still be enough of Ron to continue bedding Madison, who is keeping secrets of her own.

In this game where everyone is putting on an act, Powell and Arjona play their deceptive characters beautifully. Their chemistry is perfect, comical, and steamy. There’s a little bit of Mr. and Mrs. Smith thing going on, only Hit Man is a lot funnier and smarter about exploring those who hide behind masks. How long until it’s impossible to tell where you begin and end? Linklater wants to have it both ways and for you to enjoy this silly spy caper while contemplating the bigger picture. You get aspects of the Linklater who gave us Boyhood, but also somehow managed to give us The Bad News Bears, too. Powell can exist easily in both worlds and might be the best actor for this time in Linklater’s career.  Having already worked together on multiple films, we’d be lucky to see them team up a lot more in the future.

Hit Man opens in theaters on May 24th, followed by Netflix streaming on June 7th.

Hit Man
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
arjona-53388*NOTE: This review was originally part of our Sundance Film Festival coverage.* Okay, I can admit when I’m wrong. For quite a while I’ve been saying that Glen Powell, who I have interviewed and think is pretty awesome, will probably always be an actor THIS...