Shocking: ‘Hit Man’ Triumphs Over Identity Crisis with Killer Charm!

Exploring the essence of identity — the fundamental questions of “What defines me?” and “Why am I the way I am?” — is the heavy substance of philosophical discussions and late-night self-discoveries. In Richard Linklater’s latest film, “Hit Man,” these themes are cleverly intertwined within a light-hearted crime, comedy, and romance narrative.

From his breakout film “Slacker” to his more recent work “Everybody Wants Some!!”, Linklater has consistently demonstrated his ability to create seemingly relaxed and trivial films that subtly reveal a profound understanding of the human experience. As his career has evolved, Linklater’s unique style of filmmaking has become even more refined. This is evident in “Hit Man,” a movie that at first glance appears to be a simple comedy but delves into some of the most profound mysteries of human existence.

However, this might be jumping the gun a bit. Primarily, the film is a platform for the compelling charisma, on-screen presence, and chemistry of its two leading actors, Glen Powell and Adria Arjona. The screenplay for the film was written by Powell and Linklater, based on an article published in Texas Monthly by Skip Hollandsworth, whose previous work also inspired Linklater’s film “Bernie.” In “Hit Man,” Powell and Linklater use the real-life story of Gary Johnson as an amusing springboard for a narrative that begins with someone needing a second job.

In this rendition, Johnson (Powell) is a psychology and philosophy professor at a small college in New Orleans. He supplements his quiet, secluded life by using his technological skills to aid the local police department in conducting sting operations to catch people trying to hire a hit man. (Linklater has gone on record, both within the film and elsewhere, making the bold claim that being a hit man is not a real profession.) One day, circumstances lead Gary to act as the decoy killer, and he discovers he has a talent for acting.

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From there, Gary begins to adopt different personalities for each prospective client, until he encounters Madison (Arjona), a timid woman looking to escape her controlling, potentially abusive husband. For Madison, Gary creates the character of Ron, a confident, carefree man with a hint of danger. (Picture someone like, Glen Powell, who has demonstrated his versatility in both action-packed films like “Top Gun: Maverick” and lighthearted romantic comedies like “Anyone but You,” and is set to feature in one of this summer’s potential blockbusters, “Twisters.”)

Breaking protocol, Gary (as Ron) persuades Madison to use the money she had originally intended to use to kill her husband to start a new life instead. She immediately does so, embracing activities her husband despised, like volunteering at a pet rescue, wearing her hair naturally and donning figure-flattering short skirts. She then reaches out to Ron to thank him for guiding her in the right direction.

Both Madison and Gary are fond of Ron. In fact, everyone seems to like Ron, leading Gary to incorporate more of Ron into his own personality. This becomes even more convoluted when Gary, as Ron, begins to spend more time with Madison. Both characters are finally able to be who they’ve always wanted to be, until the situation gets more complicated when Madison’s despicable soon-to-be-ex-husband winds up dead.

At this point, the movie’s own identity crisis emerges. As it alludes to darker aspects of what one is truly capable of and the aftermath of living with those actions, the movie’s tone falters and the film’s pace slows as it works through the intricacies of its plot. That is, until a standout scene — which has reportedly sparked applause at numerous festival screenings — where Gary and Madison stage a quarrel between Madison and Ron for the sake of audio surveillance to prove their innocence, all while juggling multiple personas, saying one thing verbally while their eyes and bodies express something entirely different. This is the highlight in a movie that also includes mature love scenes.

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Throughout the film, Arjona matches Powell’s performance stride for stride. Her portrayal adds an extra layer of intrigue as it remains ambiguous whether she is a scheming seductress, a damsel in distress, or just a woman trying to find herself. (Or perhaps all of the above.) While the movie may further validate Powell’s status as a film star, Arjona’s performance should not be overlooked; this role could potentially serve as a stepping stone to more leading roles in the future.

There’s also an additional context to “Hit Man,” as it is streaming on Netflix after a minimal, limited theatrical release. If one of the most promising and seemingly bankable movie stars can’t secure a proper full-scale release for a sexy crime-comedy, what is Hollywood really doing?

Regardless of where or how it is viewed, “Hit Man” is undeniably entertaining. Sometimes, all it takes is a pair of incredibly attractive individuals enjoying each other’s company, captured by a filmmaker who knows when to let the actors take center stage. And if that doesn’t define a movie, then I’m not sure what does.

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