Hit Man

Directed By Richard Linklater

Starring – Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio

The Plot – Gary Johnson (Powell) is the most sought-after professional killer in New Orleans. To his clients, he is like something out of a movie: the mysterious gun for hire. But if you pay him to rub out a cheating spouse or an abusive boss, you’d better watch your back he works for the cops. When he breaks protocol to help a desperate woman (Arjona) trying to flee an abusive husband (Evan Holtzman), he finds himself becoming one of his false personas, falling for the woman and flirting with turning into a criminal himself.

Rated R for adult language throughout, sexual content and some violence.

Hit Man | Official Trailer | Netflix (youtube.com)


Nobody quite crafts the eclectic resume as Richard Linklater, whose genre-cruising versatility has explored everything from ‘Nacho Libre’, to ‘Last Flag Flying’, to even his iconic stoner comedy ‘Dazed and Confused’, but with ‘Hit Man’ he explores the hybrids of romantic comedy and crime noir thriller, and with mostly successful execution conjures one rip-roaring good time that grows all the more intriguing the longer the film persists in its 107 minute run time. Most of the movie’s charm factor stems from its unique premise, which is not only based on a true story, but also leads to some scintillating developments during the film’s superior second half that challenges morality on its way to one compelling character study, with a narrative in the foreground of Gary’s time as a teacher echoing the dreaded disposition of his actions that seamlessly transform him before our very eyes. Like most Linklater movies, this film carries the same kind of thematic talking points that he has been deconstructing for decades, but in the depth of a contract killer for hire, at least in established gimmick, the line between fantasy and reality becomes quickly obscured, resulting in high stakes complexity among its romantic relationship that leads to no shortage of urgency and tension for their evolution, with some truly unpredictable moments in the movie’s favor to keep audiences hooked. The romantic factor itself relishes in an effortless chemistry between Powell and Arjona that oozes an unlimited supply of heated sexuality, but also the uncertainty factor of their undefined dynamic, which grows all the more difficult to maintain with each evolving development that only further challenges the notion of how far each of them would go for the other. On top of this, the performances are off of the chart with endless personality, especially in the aforementioned irresistible duo of Powell and Arjona, whose endearing dynamic emulates many of those ingredients of crime noir familiarity, especially with Johnson continuously feeling over his head with the set of circumstances that he was forced to embrace. In Powell’s case, this might not be my favorite performance that he’s done, but it’s certainly his most demanding, with ample opportunity to flex his incredible range as a result of the many contract killers that he disguises himself as. While most of those portrayals are used for comedic emphasis, his dimensions as the real Gary Johnson never goes unnoticed, initially beginning as a timidly uncertain intellectual, before shedding the constricting layers for the kind of cool edginess that we’ve come to expect from the highly charismatic Powell. As for Arjona, she certainly relishes in the sensuality of her appeal, with a mesmerizing allure that highlights Gary being wrapped around her finger, but also a tenderness in vulnerability that drives almost the entirety of the film’s primary conflict. When these two begin a romantic relationship, the film finally feels like it’s living up to its potential, and as a result the storytelling finally captured my attention by combining stakes and urgency as two commanding factors towards the consistency of the film’s pacing. There’s also a meaningful supporting turn from Austin Amelio, who as another longtime Linklater collaborator, evokes a slimy and unpredictable wild card who constantly keeps things interesting as the knowledgeable outsider to Gary and Maddy’s blossoming romance. As for Linklater, he’s rarely been an auteur who puts style above substance, but the desire to evade his Austin, Texas surroundings, to which many of his films emanate from, does produce the same kind of appreciation for small business imagery and corresponding locations inside of the big easy of New Orleans, Louisiana. Instead of articulating the Superdome or Bourbon Street, Linklater and cinematographer Shane F. Kelly assemble a few unique locations that play feverishly to love being constantly in the air, in turn prescribing an authenticity factor to the established setting that tangibly renders itself like a character of its own within the movie. In addition, a nice touch to the presentation goes to the classic crooning of the movie’s soundtrack from Graham Reynolds, which not only echoes relevance to crime noir’s of the tinsel age of cinema, but also enriches the sentiments and allure of Gary and Maddy’s radiant love story. While most of these tracks can only be distinguished by the post-movie credits, due to background volume levels, the static splendor of the orchestral instrumentals are a corresponding achievement to the irresistible love in the foreground of the narrative, producing a classy aura that was a tasteful choice to the movie’s personality.


As previously conveyed, the first act of the movie gets off to a bit of a rough start, with an abrupt introduction that feels like a film already in progress, especially with so many of the initial beats feeling rushed for development. Without explaining much of what goes into this sting operation, as well as only an exposition dump to articulate who Gary Johnson actually is, it takes longer than necessary to feel invested in the developing narrative, creating a plodding first few beats to the storytelling that doesn’t find proper momentum until Gary and Maddy become romantic interests. For my money, if the film took more time thoroughly fleshing out the world in depiction before attacking the primary plot, it could’ve met audiences at eye level, but because it doesn’t it makes it difficult to care or even properly measure the magnitude and meaning of what we’re shown, especially with so much being played dominantly for humor during this section of the film. On that subject, the comedy is the one side of the tonal and genre equation that doesn’t live up to expectations, especially with the enormous potential of Linklater and Powell, who helped enhance one of my favorite comedies of the decade, ‘Everybody Wants Some’. While there are many problems with the material in totem, especially how tone-deaf they make the movie feel in consistency, the punchlines feel like they almost don’t even materialize, and those that do parallel many of the spy comedies of the early 2000’s that go for cutesy and quirky, instead of darkly demented. Considering the film is blessed with a sought-after R-rating, the material never takes advantage of the accessibility in expressing itself that could’ve brought to life the danger and ferocity of this established world, resulting in a far greater palpability in personality that could’ve properly balanced responsibility with the romantic elements that are out of this world. Finally, and perhaps another reason for the underwhelming humor, the dialogue frequently falls on the corny side of cadence, especially during the interactions of Gary and Maddy, who really don’t need words to articulate their palpable chemistry. In being completely truthful, some of these lines are downright embarrassing, especially in that they’re rendered with an undebatable seriousness to their captivity, serving as the one compromising element to the otherwise thorough characterization that springs with humanity.

‘Hit Man’ isn’t on the top level of Richard Linklater achievements, as a result of undercooked humor and an underwhelming opening act, but it is a twisty, scintillating and wildly entertaining crime noir thriller that is brought to life during a far superior second half full of elevated stakes and tension. With charmingly irresistible chemistry from Glen Powell and Adria Arjona, as well as a thorough three-dimensional character study on the nature of identity, the film serves as an uproarious execution to a fascinating true story, and one that begs the question of just how far and how many laws is one willing to break for the one who shapes him?

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

One thought on “Hit Man

  1. June 7th can’t come soon enough! What a wonderful review! Even though the score is lower than I would expect from Linklater, your positive and negatives make sense. I hope I can hold on tight enough to the first act to really ride out the better second half! I also have been enjoying Glen Powell a lot so it’s nice to hear this is expanding his range! Great review!! Can’t wait to check it out with the right expectations!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *