Hit Man, 2023
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio, Retta, Evan Holtzman, Sanjay Rao, Gralen Bryant Banks, Molly Bernard and Mike Markoff
Strait-laced professor, Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), moonlights as phony hit man for the New Orleans Police Department. He excels at entrapping hapless victims, that is until he is drawn into morally dubious territory when he finds himself attracted to one of those potential criminals, a beautiful young woman named Madison (Adria Arjona).
Writer-director Richard Linklater aims to join an illustrious cabal of assassin themed comedies, that includes Grosse Point Blank and In Bruges, by targeting the funny bone against a backdrop of death and deception in his kinda-based-on-a-true-story tale, Hit Man.
Taking a similar approach to Noah Hawley’s Fargo television series, Linklater drops us into a very ordinary looking world in order to accentuate the extraordinary truth of teacher-come-undercover investigator Gary Johnson (a name that elicits one of the film’s biggest laughs, and there are plenty of them). In fact, the entire film feels very Coen Brothers, in all the best ways, by taking a run-of-the-mill character and putting a life changing decision before them, one which goes against all of their better instincts, and which starts a chain of events that spirals gloriously out of control.
The high hit-rate tone of the film is set from the off. Remember the team from the tactical van in True Lies who would bicker and squabble as Arnold Schwarzenegger would take down the bad guys? When he isn’t teaching, Gary (Glen Powell) is the electricals expert in a low-rent version of that. Their mission being to set-up sting operations in order to prevent the residents of New Orleans hiring hitmen to solve their issues. When Gary is reluctantly forced to step-up to the front line and pose as an assassin named Ron, he gets to act out the Jungian psychology that makes up the contents of his classroom blackboard, a job made infinitely more difficult when Madison (Adria Arjona) shows up with a brown envelope.
It’s here that a film which has already been sprinkled with its fair share of smarts and charm, largely thanks to Glen Powell’s chameleonic leading man, sparks into an inferno of sharp humour, delicious twists and the kind of sexiness not seen since Out of Sight.
The script, adapted by Powell and Linklater from Skip Hollandsworth’s Texas Monthly article, is peppered with the kind of memorable dialogue you’d expect from a filmmaker with School of Rock and Dazed and Confused on his resume. Linklater is always good Linklater. However, as good as it is, Hit Man wouldn’t land as much as it does without the performances of the ensemble, who ensure that the off-kilter quirkiness evolves into something uproariously funny and rewarding come the triumphant final flourish. It’s a shame that this is arriving on a streaming service, because Hit Man has moments that play like gangbusters with a large crowd.
Powell is ridiculously good. Managing to balance more broad character changes than a terrible Michael Myers movie, while also creating likeable personas for both his id and ego identities.
Adria Arjona is his equal, elevating what could have manifested as a stock neo-noir femme-fatale archetype, or borderline male wish-fulfillment, into a smart, layered, scene-stealing performance. Together their chemistry is reel-burning stuff.
Special mention must go to Austin Amelio’s shit-stirring cop. The Walking Dead actor is memorably shifty as the situation’s third-wheel, and he’s consistently at the heart of some of the film’s biggest belly laughs.
The best film of its kind since The Nice Guys, Linklater’s Hit Man is smart without being smug, sparking with an electricity that hops between its superb ensemble, and is arguably funnier than almost every comedy released in 2023 combined.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter