‘Hit Man’ Cements Glen Powell’s Movie Star Status

In Hit Man, Richard Linklater’s latest film, the beloved director teams up with his star Glen Powell to write a script loosely based on a stranger-than-fiction news feature by legendary Texas Monthly reporter Skip Hollandsworth. It should be stressed that the real story, while remarkably gripping, does not go quite as extreme as the film – but cinema excels in that certain realm of fiction that pays homage to reality while finding the fantastical in its everyday oddities. 

The story of Hit Man

Hit Man follows Gary Johnson (Powell), a psychology and philosophy professor at the University of New Orleans who lives alone with his cats Id and Ego. More importantly, with his astute understanding of human motivation and (im)mutability of one’s personality, he moonlights with the local police force to help catch those looking to hire a hitman. In voiceover and through excellent montage through the silver screen’s most famous hitmen, Gary almost laughs at this foible: hitmen only exist on the screen, but those he meets looking for a murderer-for-hire have been wholly seduced by this mythos. 

Glen Powell in Hit Man
Glen Powell in Hit Man. Image courtesy of Netflix.

When his full-time officer colleague Jasper (Austin Amelio) ends up suspended for misconduct, administrative police officers Claudette and Phil (Retta and Sanjay Rao) push Gary out in front to impersonate the ideal hitman and entrap those trying to hire him. Gary does not have the training, but he is handsome, white, and equipped with a keen understanding of the human psyche. He becomes a natural at catching would-be killers-by-proxy, but Maddy (Adria Arjona) – a battered woman looking to rid herself of her husband – throws a wrench in his carefully constructed act. Perhaps human nature is not quite so set or so controllable as Gary initially thought! 

Hit Man is made for repeat viewings

With the film’s smart script and moseying pacing – enjoying rather than rushing through each development, observation, and side path – Hit Man will reward repeat viewings. Linklater has always excelled at capturing the most mundane and inexplicable of human behavior and urges, making the former cases beautiful studies of our shared traits and experiences and the latter cases not only recognizable but relatable. Hit Man may be his most crowd-pleasing work since the Before trilogy ended, straddling the line between the earth-moving romance of those three films and the exuberant character comedy of School of Rock (with shades of Bernie, Linklater’s other film with Jack Black, in its strange sympathy for society’s margins – coincidentally, also based on a true story chronicled by Hollandsworth). 

The best films – especially comedies and romances – do not follow the logic of the real world, or even the best way to move through it. Classic characters and couples of the genre are beloved for their charm and chemistry, not for modelling healthy behaviours. Hit Man is unafraid to move to the most extreme logical conclusion and proves the best screen partnerships in love, work, crime, and convenience emerge when all the pieces are pitched to the same hyper-real frequency. Here, one finds true escapism in the magic of cinema. 

Glen Powell has old Hollywood charisma

At the center of this partnership – and indeed the whole film – is Powell. If it was not already clear from the Texan actor’s turns in Set It Up, Top Gun: Maverick, and Anyone But You, the actor exudes an old Hollywood charisma that never wholly evaporates even as he finely tunes each performance to fit into the world of each film. His comedies have ranged from the romantic to the slapstick, and his grace and ease make both humble and arrogant characters feel truthful. He has been working tirelessly in the industry since 2007, and his leading man projects, including Hit Man, have come to fruition with fortuitous timing. With Twisters out next month, he might make the leap to bona fide marquee star. 

In Hit Man, Powell proves his strengths as the everyman thrust into unusual circumstances. Watching an actor play someone who is acting himself is always captivating: the lines between actor, character, and performance-within-a-performance have the tendency to go professional (as in, the actor himself begins to play the secondary character) or to metatheatrical (the character’s attempts at acting signpost this effort, breaking believability in the ruse). Through a range of accents, outfits, and personas, Powell threads this line perfectly: Gary is the only one acting. 

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell in Hit Man
Adria Arjona and Glen Powell in Hit Man. Image courtesy of Netflix.

Among the supporting cast, Arjona matches Powell every step of the way from the moment of her appearance on screen. Amelio never overplays Jaspers’ potential to go unhinged at any moment, and Retta and Rao are both workplace comedy masters. Casting director Vicky Boone fills out supporting and minor roles with characterful faces that suggest rich inner lives for even five-second appearances, and production designer Bruce Curtis and costume designer Juliana Hoffpauir have ensured every outfit, dive bar, roadside diner, courtroom, and classroom is crafted with personality and detail. 

Final thoughts on Hit Man

Netflix is dropping the ball in a major way by releasing Hit Man in cinemas for a mere two weeks before sending it straight to its streaming platform: this has the potential to become a word-of-mouth hit, much like the Powell-starring Anyone But You earlier this year. But the bright side is that this film will reach a large audience very quickly. With a cast firing on all cylinders to uphold a bizarre, yet bizarrely heartwarming, premise, Hit Man promises to be one of the year’s best action comedies.

Hit Man is now playing in limited theaters. It will release on Netflix on June 7th.

Learn more about the movie at Netflix’s site for the title.

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