Richard Linklater’s Hit Man is Cheeky, Hot, and a Hell of a Ride

Richard Linklater and Glen Powell’s Hit Man is witty, sexy, and side-splittingly funny. Although it must be said that the first conceit that anyone could find Glen Powell even in repressed academic Gary Johnson (Glen Powell) mode as someone with a perfectly forgettable face is one of the biggest jokes in the film. Yes, as his job as a ‘role playing hitman’ for the New Orleans Police Department, Glen/Gary dons many disguises – but forgettable Powell is not.

Very loosely based on the life of an academic who moonlit for the police pretending to be a hitman for hire – this stranger than fiction tale becomes something more profound. The emotionally isolated philosophy and psychology lecturer (teaching a class on the notion of self) finds that being thrown in the deep end of undercover work gives him a chance to use his astute observational skills to create a perfect hitman for anyone who reaches out. More importantly, it gives Gary a chance to try on the skin of Ron – ‘the Caucasian Idris’ when he meets and dissuades potential ‘client’ Madison Masters (Adria Arjona).

Gary is the kind of man who believes he will never experience life from the inside. He’s an observer of human nature but not an active participant in it. He’s fine to stay at home with kitties Ego and Id and do some tech work for the police in between going bird watching. Passion according to himself and his ex-wife is something he can’t manage. “I’m not the kind of person who could get worked up about anything enough to kill or die for anyone.”

Hitmen don’t exist, Gary narrates – they’re a trope people have come to believe in through pop culture. A psychology and philosophy teacher who knows ethics and morals are changeable and that no-one has a handle on the human condition (maybe Sigmund Freud and Frederic Nietzsche have a couple of good points) Gary is in a rut. Until he meets Madison – the puppy loving wife of an abusive husband who wants him gone. As Ron, Gary finds himself sparking a flirtation with the fragile femme fatale. He doesn’t want to see Madison in an extended prison sentence, so he convinces her to stall the hit.

Madison does what he says and after she has ‘gotten a divorce’ from Ray (Evan Holtzman) she reaches out to her Hitman and hits on him. Gary shifts into being Ron around her – he likes Ron, Ron gets things done. Ron doesn’t overthink. Ron, unlike Gary, is spectacularly good at sex. Madison likes Ron too – a lot. They form a fantasy love island in her apartment. A fantasy which Gary muses, “She was sleeping with a man she thought had killed multiple people. He was sleeping with a woman who could clearly have her lover killed.”

Hit Man is a comedy crime caper slash rom com, so expect hijinks in the sunny neo noir. Linklater and Powell (who co-wrote the script) are having a terrific time deconstructing America, law enforcement, and the things that exist quite overtly in contemporary society – especially with the proliferation of crime narratives. Gary’s avatars are hilarious but also a little chilling. Of course, a teenager who wants his mother dead is going to react to a hit man who looks like he just walked out of ‘Metal Gear Solid.’ It’s not surprising that a gun toting good ol’ boy is going to gel with a heavily tattooed red neck. One does have to wonder for whom the perfect hitman looks like the redheaded stepchild of Crispin Glover and 1968 Charlie Watts.

One also has to wonder how Gary can so quickly shift modes from one hitman to another with his “extremely specific” information about disposal of fingers and the like if he had never considered the logistics before. His isn’t merely a talent for improvisation, it’s something stranger.

Ron/Gary’s glorious but extremely off-kilter relationship with Madison is acted with such natural chemistry between Powell and Arjona that it’s sometimes easy to forget what an unexploded bomb it is until the shoes keep dropping. Pay the psychotically jealous husband and Jasper (Austin Amelio) the sleazy and disgruntled cop – both of whom no one will really miss. Ron told Madison in justifying his job as a hitman that some people deserve killing. Gary made his class role play in three different political and epidemiological eras whether the group rehabilitates or obliterates socially disruptive elements. Linklater and Powell’s script is finely tuned to set the audience up for the Gary glow up, that right and wrong become secondary to satisfaction and self-determination.

“There are no absolutes whether moral or epistemological,” Gary tells his students before their final exam. Gary’s ‘reality’ has changed. He’s seized the person he wants to be – and that person is the cherry on the pie serving the pie and eating the pie. All pie is good pie.

Fantastically clever with Powell owning every moment as all iterations of the hitman. The throwback element of Hit Man baits the hook and keeps you watching. It’s been a while since audiences have been given a Grosse Point Blank and honestly, it’s refreshing to have a film which is so breezily entertaining, thrilling, brainy, and romantic. Hit Man is cheeky, hot, and a hell of a ride.

Director: Richard Linklater

Cast: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio

Writers: Richard Linklater, Glen Powell, (Based on the Texas Monthly Article by Skip Hollandsworth)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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