Hit Man (2023)
June 7, 2024 9:53 AM - Subscribe

A professor moonlighting as a hit man of sorts for his city police department, descends into dangerous, dubious territory when he finds himself attracted to a woman who enlists his services.

Oscar-nominated director Richard Linklater's sunlit neo-noir stars Glen Powell as strait-laced professor Gary Johnson, who moonlights as a fake hit man for the New Orleans Police Department. Preternaturally gifted at inhabiting different guises and personalities to catch hapless people hoping to bump off their enemies, Gary descends into morally dubious territory when he finds himself attracted to one of those potential criminals, a beautiful young woman named Madison (Adria Arjona). As Madison falls for one of Gary's hit man personas -- the mysteriously sexy Ron -- their steamy affair sets off a chain reaction of play acting, deception, and escalating stakes.

Natalia Keogan: After several weeks, Madison and “Ron” meet again; she declares that she’s newly divorced, owing her freedom to his candid advice. Sparks continue to fly between the two, partly because of Madison’s fascination with “Ron’s” illicit occupation, and they begin a sexual relationship. While Gary might be lying to Madison about his milquetoast true identity, his lover might not be telling the whole truth herself.

Much of the hype for Hit Man stems from Powell and Arjona’s crackling chemistry, so integral to the plot that their character development largely unfolds during sex scenes (leaving little room for discourse about whether these encounters are “gratuitous”). While the notion that Hit Man contains the “first sex scene” in a Linklater film isn’t necessarily true (and has been denied by the director), viewers aren’t totally wrong to note that it approaches sex differently than his other works: Dazed and Confused dabbles in the navigation of budding libidos; Everybody Wants Some!! revolves around horny college freshmen trying to get laid, but it’s hardly about experiencing genuine connection; the Before trilogy, conversely, finds its innate sexiness from anticipatory arousal.

Moira Macdonald: Billed at its opening as “a somewhat true story” (Linklater and co-screenwriter Powell take some liberties with the facts of Johnson’s life), “Hit Man” is an unlikely love story on two levels. It’s simultaneously a steamy romance between Gary and Madison (Adria Arjona), a sultry femme fatale who approaches Gary desperately hoping he can bump off her husband, and an intellectual love affair between Gary and the idea of changing yourself, of how performing as a person of passion and recklessness and danger might lead you to examine who you are. What’s especially charming about the latter is that Gary, a nerdy sweetheart who lives alone with his two cats and is an avid bird-watcher, is clearly the opposite of danger. Powell’s delightful performance, as both Gary and “Ron” (Madison’s hit man), lets us see the pleasure Gary finds in disappearing into another person, yet still remaining true to himself. He does a perfect wink near the end, during an equally perfect scene that I won’t spoil, that had me practically shrieking for joy.

Clarisse Loughrey: As Gary’s narration points out, the idea of a readily attainable rent-a-killer is pure Hollywood bull, a naive fantasy of a quick (if ethically troublesome) fix to life’s most stubborn problems. But, clearly, it’s a tempting prospect to some, and when Gary is suddenly asked to step into Jasper’s role, he becomes fully invested in transforming himself into other people’s ideal saviours. At one point, it’s a full-blown impression of Christian Bale in American Psycho, glossy skin and all. At another, it’s a refined British flavour of sociopathy that’s shades of Tilda Swinton.

Powell’s transition between identities plays like a magic trick, with Gary as the genuine Clark Kent ruse, his square-jawed handsomeness hidden behind a slicked-down side part, wireframe glasses, and terrible posture. Hit Man also works as proof of Powell’s versatility: he’s goofy and sweet one minute, tough the next. And, when Gary finds himself falling head over heels in love with one of his targets, Adria Arjona’s Maddy, Powell turns on the charm like a blowtorch, in a way that proves that all the buzz around his chemistry with his Anyone But You romcom co-star Sydney Sweeney wasn’t empty social media talk.

Maddy hires Gary’s hitman, now a leather-jacketed, GQ cover star-type called Ron, to take out her abusive husband. But the sincerity of her plight leads Gary to warn her off a potential life behind bars and instead strike out on her own. Soon enough, they’re embroiled in a highly charged affair that’s all the more sexy for the many lies upon which it’s built.

Arjona matches Powell’s passions, while Linklater, with a touch of his signature nonchalance, sprinkles in a few of Gary’s classroom musings on whether people can truly change. The director’s films, from Dazed and Confused to the Before trilogy, have always been concerned with how we can find our place in this world. In Hit Man, Powell can transform so readily, that answer seems to be wherever we like.

posted by Carillon (9 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Texas Monthly article on which things are loosely based.

We were able to see this last night in theaters, and it was a bunch of fun. I walked in blind so wasn't sure if this was going to be Linklater's the Killer. It was something much different than that, but a huge blast. It was very funny, and Arjona and Powell's chemistry was a bunch of fun. I really loved how as he gets more involved in this world, his teaching gets better, it's such a funny, subtle gag. Also, how much I wasn't sure where the film was going. Was he going to start taking clients for real? Was someone going to get out and come after him? I'm glad they played all of that pretty much straight.

Did anyone else feel very nervous in the climax? I was so worried she and Jaspar were working for the cops to trap him and that the drugs were all a ruse. Then with the focus and shot on the single apple, movie time wise I then was worried that was poisoned.

It does walk an interesting line. In most movies them having sex above a dead cop would be signs of depravity or at least moral failings, but here it's rewarded. I didn't hate it per se, but thought it was an interesting choice.
posted by Carillon at 10:00 AM on June 7 [6 favorites]

99% amazing. agree with all the above. there were some really neat callbacks to film noir both in soundtrack, cinematography, plot......the charisma, chemistry (&hotness!) of the leads was offscale.

but.....oh man, the last 1%? that ending 💩 . such a tonally jarring change, 5?7? years later, they look identical! motherhood & apple pie!!!?? talk about NOT sticking the landing.

I want the director's cut to end at the cop's body stopping breathing; maybe a monologue?
posted by lalochezia at 7:36 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]

I thought this was watchable but also forgettable. I really hate the trope of leading-man-as-sadsack until he takes off his glasses and fixes his hair; the main character didn't look or act believably at the outset, and the stakes of the story requires that we do buy in. The quick scenes of these crazy characters he'd play was entertaining (if silly) but it made me wonder why was he so unbelievable as Gary himself if he was so believable as these cartoonish hit men.
posted by stevil at 7:58 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]

As a New Orleanian I appreciated the bounty of great locations. The club Virgil's isn't real but pretty much everywhere else was, I think. The Please-U is a greasy spoon Greek diner with a great gyro omelet and poker machines, nary a tourist to be seen like ever. Ted's Frostop is great old-school burgers, but they're never open past 5 so the nighttime setting isn't accurate. UNO's campus in the film is really UNO, the police station is really the old police station on Magazine and Napoleon. Pho Bang is really the Pho Bang in New Orleans East, interior too. Vaughn's! City Park! No cliched Bourbon Street bars, fake second lines, or terrible-looking gumbo! I did enjoy the actual film too, but two enthusiastic thumbs up for the location work.
posted by CheeseLouise at 9:26 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]

I thought this was watchable but also forgettable. I really hate the trope of leading-man-as-sadsack until he takes off his glasses and fixes his hair;

This but I suppose, any person.

Though I agree with the review above that in this case I do think it's more emblematic of Clark Kent (Gary) vs Superman (Ron). More so, I wonder with Gary being a philosophy professor, there's almost a übermensch / Nietzsche aspect to Gary's transformation, by rejecting the mainstream morals to become this tough guy Ron, who has no qualms with killing. This kind of feels underlined in Gary's final class statement to the students about making themselves into something better (super?) and laying out a philosophical approach that there isn't a right or wrong so much as subjective interpretation.

This film was praised by a lot of people, but I agree that for the most part, it's ends up coming in just fine, but not great. I also agree with posters here, the ending was a bit of a failure. We're very much told that the people who died were bad people, a dirty, racist cop and an abusive controlling husband, ready to have his wife murdered for moving on, and I think that the story relies a little too much on this to absolve Gary and Madison at the end of the film. They're allowed to have their Norman Rockwell life, despite the sociopathic act of having sex while a human being, despicable as they may be, is quietly suffocating ten feet away. Gary's cool approach to placing the bag over Jaspar's head was pretty chilling. Based on Gary's closing statement to his class, there's almost a sense that the couple have moved forward into a realm where they feel comfortable deciding the relative value of life.

Perhaps the figurative bad taste comes from a societal expectation that someone who kills or clearly violates the law should pay some form of penalty for doing so. Gary was wrong to pursue his relationship with Madison, and it was that line of bad decision making which created a lot of the tension in the middle and final act. It lead to a tightening of the noose aspect as it seemed he was moments away from being caught by NOPD, or at minimum, fired, but then voila, Madison happens to have the right type of drugs to incapacitate Jaspar and and Gary has transitioned enough into his hit man persona to calmly kill the last remaining barrier to future marital bliss.
posted by Atreides at 7:12 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]

tl;dr amoral immoral sociopaths are A-OK if they are sexy and do it with a nod and a wink and a good soundtrack
posted by lalochezia at 8:36 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]

posted by Atreides at 11:07 AM on June 11

> I thought this was watchable but also forgettable. I really hate the trope of leading-man-as-sadsack until he takes off his glasses and fixes his hair;

Yeah it's always so hard to get past that. Like the students *just* noticed that their professor, movie star Glen Powell, hollywoods new romantic leading man, is hot, now that he, uhh, is dressing kind of douchy?
posted by dis_integration at 2:26 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

Yeah on first watch at least this film gets a lot of free mileage just because it's not clear if or when it is ever going to go dark. There's a sense that surely it's going to do/be more than what it seems to be doing. It stays in bounds except for the dark joke at the end, which I think is ameliorated by

I can see why people mentioned Burn Notice in the same breath; not just the voiceovers, but the kind of cable TV low stakes and softness.
posted by fleacircus at 1:20 PM on June 14

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