Review: Glen Powell Delights in Richard Linklater’s Smart, Sometimes Twisted Hit Man

Just as I was afraid actor Glen Powell was on the verge of getting lost doing lightweight, unchallenging fare like Top Gun: Maverick and the current Anyone But You, he rediscovers his roots by re-teaming with Richard Linklater (the two worked together on Everybody Wants Some!!), both in front of the camera and as a co-writer (with the director), for Hit Man, the mostly true story of Gary Johnson. Johnson was a solid citizen and professor who had a secret life helping the New Orleans police with surveillance operations and wire recordings.

But when one of the officers who typically does the actual undercover work is suspended for several months, Gary is tapped to take on the job of pretending to be a hit man and capturing unsuspecting citizens trying to hire him to kill someone. Gary jumps into the gig headfirst, becoming a master of disguise and voices, while also deducing on the fly the kind of hit man his potential clients need him to be. His arrest percentages are among the best on the force, and he gets so caught up in the game that he accidentally talks a particularly beautiful mark (Adria Arjona) out of hiring him so she won’t get arrested, eventually meeting up with her later and starting an inadvisable relationship.

Hit Man works off the strength of its twisted, smart, funny screenplay (based on an article in Texas Monthly by Skip Hollandsworth), but Powell rises to the occasion, delivering a powerhouse, fully physical performance that you have to see to believe. Backing him up are a trio of great supporting players—Austin Amelio, Retta, and Sanjay Rao—all of whom have different agendas when it comes to Gary. But within the physical comedy and great acting are subtle themes about identity and getting lost in a version of ourselves that is more interesting than the real you.

There’s a scene between Powell and Arjona, in which they know they're being recorded by police but have to have their intense conversation as if they don’t know, that is so awe-inspiring, the audience I saw the film with burst out in applause at the end of it—an occurrence I’ve heard happened at every festival screening it has had. This is easily one of the best films I saw at Sundance and one of the most enjoyable of the year so far.

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.