Premiering at TIFF 2023, action comedy Hit Man is directed and co-written by Before Sunrise director Richard Linklater. Starring Top Gun Maverick actor Glen Powell (who also serves as co-screenwriter), the film is based on an article about an undercover police mole posing as a contract killer to arrest those who try to hire him.
At first glance, psychology lecturer Gary Johnson (Powell) is a typical nobody. Divorced, awkwardly dressed but incredibly clever, he is content with his life of solitude that involves birdwatching, caring for his cats and the odd gadget or two. His expertise with technology sees him occasionally work on surveillance missions with the New Orleans Police Department until he is quickly hired to replace usual undercover officer Jasper (Austin Amelio). Gary’s newfound success as a mole proves to become really successful until he meets Madison (Adria Arjona), throwing his cover in jeopardy.
With a narration delivered in Gary’s Southern drawl, the audience is quickly sucked into his calm and ordered world yet despite his self-confessed contentment, the whimsical narration and snippets of his psych and philosophy classes hint at an urge to be more than his usual lonely self. But there is no hint of personal or moral conflict – instead, Linklater and Powell disarm audiences with the premise of a thriller with the pace and one-liners of a comedy. Instead of a twisted killer, Hit Man is simply about a guy doing his job while enjoying being someone else.
Through each successful case, a steady growth in confidence kickstarts Gary’s “evolution” into someone outside of his comfort zone, namely Ron, a non-commital, chisel-jawed hunk who is so hot even Gary’s police colleagues are lusting over him. Things take a turn when “Ron” meets Madison, whose circumstances causes Gary to shoot his MO to hell and start a relationship between her. This not only sets up the now-necessary personal conflict but highlights the sizzling chemistry between Powell and Arjona that puts other on-screen romances to shame.
In fact, Hit Man‘s fun factor is mostly due to Powell’s star-making turn. Rather than the clean-cut roles he is known for, he explores different identities in his performance as Gary and his enjoyment in relishing such a role emanates from the screen. He shines as Gary’s career goes from strength to strength while Linklater weaves his conversational magic to deliver engrossing yet entertaining dialogue laced with humour. Throw in some small pockets of hilarity that involve tiny puppies and an amusing commitment to playing dress up and the end result is this crowd-pleasing comedy.
Smart, sexy and hilarious, Hit Man is easily one of Linklater’s most entertaining features to date that not only sees the director return to form but puts Powell firmly in the limelight.
Director: Richard Linklater, Glen Powell (co-screenwriter)
Stars: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio, Retta
Runtime: 113 minutes