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Hit Man is a solid hit

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Inspired by a true story, co-writer/director Richard Linklater's Hit Man follows Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), a college professor by day and undercover mole for the New Orleans police by night. Disguised as a hit man, Johnson gets assigned to entrap various suspects looking to employ him as a contract killer. (115 min.)

FATAL ATTRACTION An undercover mole (Glen Powell, left) pretending to be a hit man gets dangerously close to a client (Adria Arjona, right) who hires him to kill her husband, in Netflix's Hit Man. - PHOTO COURTESY OF NETFLIX
  • Photo Courtesy Of Netflix
  • FATAL ATTRACTION An undercover mole (Glen Powell, left) pretending to be a hit man gets dangerously close to a client (Adria Arjona, right) who hires him to kill her husband, in Netflix's Hit Man.

Editor's note: Regular reviewers Glen and Anna Starkey took this week off from Split Screen.

Caleb I don't know how Hit Man fell under my radar. My TikTok feed doesn't throw a lot of Glen Powell content my way, but I'm surprised my algorithm didn't put me on some kind of film junkie list to alert me of director Richard Linklater's latest project and get-ready-with-me routines. Like so many of Linklater's movies, Hit Man shows he's a chameleon filmmaker. Between his comedies (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock), dramas (Before Sunrise, Boyhood), and unnerving thrillers (Tape, A Scanner Darkly), he's undeniably versatile. I had no idea Hit Man was his until the end credits. He co-wrote the film with its heartthrob star, Powell, who seems to be having the time of his life playing a college professor who moonlights as an undercover contractor for the New Orleans police. During sting operations, Gary Johnson (Powell) pretends to be a hit man and tricks suspects into hiring him, while garnering confessions and payment from them to ensure their swift arrests. With each suspect, Johnson switches up his appearance—with an array of wigs and fake teeth—and mannerisms, partly in a way to cater to the person he's targeting. Sometimes he's a suave badass in a leather jacket, other times he's a pool boy with a mullet. Inspired by a nearly stranger-than-fiction true story, Hit Man is quite a ride that not only made me laugh a lot but had me at the edge of my seat at times too.

Bulbul Not to be confused with the very different Hit Man (2007) starring Timothy Olyphant in a bald cap, Powell's slicked-back blond version emerges as the superior of the two. It's got all the makings of a summer blockbuster even though it went straight to Netflix. Perhaps the makers of this movie wanted to play it safe with Bad Boys: Ride or Die raking in the moolah in theaters. It's fun seeing Powell flex his acting chops as he assumes each persona to trap New Orleans' more violent denizens. Even though his default personality is of nerdy loner Gary Johnson, that character appears to be a ludicrous bit as well. The suave, conventionally attractive Powell takes center stage when he breaks protocol to dissuade a mysterious client Madison Figueroa Masters (Adria Arjona) from killing her abusive husband. What ensues is a rom-com-thriller that's a juggling act of false identities. It made me want to read Skip Hollandsworth's Hit Man article on the real Gary Johnson for Texas Monthly, just to see how true to life the movie is.

Caleb This isn't Linklater's first rodeo when it comes to adapting Hollandsworth's work. Another of the journalist's true crime articles inspired the dark comedy Bernie (2011), which Hollandsworth also co-wrote the screenplay for with Linklater. Powell's been a recurring actor in Linklater's films over the years, since his role as Steve in 2006's Fast Food Nation. Hit Man marks their first collaboration as writing partners though, and I hope it's the first of many. It's an absolute blast thanks to its clever script and kinetic cast. Walking Dead fans will recognize Austin Amelio as Jasper, a rival undercover agent who loses his mole role to Johnson due to alcoholism and a brutal incident of excessive force. He finds a slimy opportunity to swindle his way back in though after unraveling a real murder case he suspects Johnson may be a key player in.

Bulbul Hit Man the movie definitely takes some creative liberties to maintain an upbeat entertaining feel throughout. Hollandsworth's account is a bit more grim. I did feel like the creators already had their picturesque ending in mind while they were adapting the article. It appeared rushed, and there are definitely some loose ends that were brushed off. But Hit Man seemed aware of this, with Johnson throwing in a line about how he and his new lover will eventually ease out the kinks of a job half-done as the opportunity presents itself. It's an updated Bonnie and Clyde, and I probably shouldn't overthink a feel-good summer action (ish?) flick. Bring out your backyard projector or gather your friends around a TV. Hit Man is best enjoyed with cool company and chilled drinks on a balmy night. Δ

Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal and Calendar Editor Caleb Wiseblood filled in for Glen and Anna Starkey this week. Email your thoughts to [email protected].


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