Hit Man does the impossible: Makes navel-gazing philosophical conversations wildly entertaining

Hit Man does the impossible: Makes navel-gazing philosophical conversations wildly entertaining
  • PublishedJune 10, 2024

Have you ever wanted to be someone else? Someone more charming, more confident, happier? How far would you be willing to go to keep being the better version of yourself? Those are the questions asked in Richard Linklater’s new off-beat rom-com Hit Man.

And while Linklater (Boyhood; Dazed and Confused; the Before trilogy) is in the director’s seat, the film belongs to star and co-writer Glen Powell. The human capybara might be on more people’s radar since rom-com Anyone But You stole the December box office, but Powell has been grinding since his early teens (he was in Spy Kids: 3D for heck’s sake!).

Linklater and Powell have been circling each other since the actor had a bit part in the director’s environmental dark comedy Fast Food Nation (which came out in 2006, for every journo putting Powell on ‘hot new actors‘ lists), so it makes sense they would excel as co-writers.

In Hit Man, Powell plays college psychology professor Gary Johnson (loosely based on a real person from a 2001 Texas Monthly profile) who moonlights for the New Orleans Police Department as tech support. Despite his steady job and Glen Powell good looks, Gary is loser-coded.

He’s timid with his cop crew (which includes a delightful Retta, people need to put Retta in more things) and is still friends with his ex-wife, who encourages him to embody the change that he wishes to see in himself.

A blond man in a short sleeve button down and glasses in front of a chalkboard
Hit Man went to the She’s All That school for putting glasses on hot people to try and convince us they’re nerds.(Supplied: Netflix)

How to get away with (fake) murder

When his colleague, the repugnant dirty cop Jasper (Austin Amelio), gets suspended , Gary is forced to step in at the last minute and somehow play a convincing hit man.

Well wouldn’t ya believe it, ol’ Gary glasses is actually excellent at pretending to be a suave and confident murderer for hire. Soon Gary has taken on all of Jasper’s work, creating elaborate characters, complete with costumes and accents, in order to trick poor schlubs into confessing on tape.

It doesn’t matter if he’s playing a tattooed and scarred biker or a disturbing Tilda Swinton look-alike, Powell is phenomenal at embodying all the little side characters. Each successful sting earns a mug shot of the perp and whomp-whomp noise that stays funny, despite repetition.

Just as the higher ups are praising Gary for his fake hit-man work, a spanner in the works comes in the form of Maddy (Adria Arjona), a doe-eyed wife who’s desperate to be rid of her controlling husband. For Maddy, Gary creates Ron — a character confident, cool, in control and immediately head over heels with her.

A blond man and a brunette woman sit across each other at a diner.
As Ron, Gary puts his career (and life) on the line to help Maddy.(Supplied: Netflix)

Love makes fools of us all so, instead of nailing the perp, “Ron” encourages Maddy to flee and she cancels the hit. This begins a covert relationship between Maddy and Ron that’s as horny as it is morally questionable.

Everything is going swimmingly until Maddy’s dirtbag ex really does turn up dead, and Gary/Ron starts to feel the heat from his double life.

Hit Man is for the yappers

Anyone tricked by the film’s action title and synopsis will be sorely disappointed, because Hit Man has Linklater doing what he does best: directing long scenes with philosophical conversations that never teeter into pretentiousness.

Through voiceover and lectures delivered to his students, Gary articulates the question at the centre of Hit Man: What are we capable of to make our lives better?

A lot of the film’s run time is dedicated to Gary chatting out this moral quandary out with anyone who will listen, which could leave some people wondering where the car chases and shootouts are. But the space allowed for Powell and Linklater’s thoughtful dialogue only serves to heighten the tension when a gun is finally drawn.

Once Gary lands in his pot of rapidly heating water, the mood shifts from farce-adjacent rom-com to nail-biting thriller; the pace quickens and character’s alliances change rapidly.

The last 30 minutes of the film will have you on the edge of your seat, with your personal morals as tangled as Gary and Maddy’s.

Of course, the dialogue would be nothing without actors to deliver it, and Powell swings from righteously funny to earnest at the drop of a fedora, selling everything with aplomb. Arjona proves a worthy sparring partner as a woman who wants everything to work out but wants everything to work out for herself more.

Two men dressed in denim shoot clay birds outside
Gary pulls out all the stops in order to get a confession out of his targets.(Supplied: Netflix)

Hit Man wants you to reflect on how malleable your sense of self really is — but it also wants you to laugh at Glen Powell in silly wigs and fake teeth. This tonal balance is dangerous, but Linklater’s kind, nostalgic lens and Powell’s commanding chameleon of a performance combine to do the impossible: make navel-gazing philosophical conversations wildly entertaining.

After almost two decades of treading the boards as that-guy-from-that-thing, Glen Powell finally has a vehicle that shows what he is capable of as an actor and creative. With collaborator’s like Linklater, it’s exciting to see what the future could hold for this ‘up and coming’ star.

Anyone But You might have elevated Glen Powell to name-brand status with your mum and her friends, but Hit Man might just be his defining achievement (so far).


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