Richard Linklater’s Hit Man is a true showcase of why streaming will never compare to theatrical releases, allowing everyone a chance to laugh together and appreciate the film for all it truly is – a treasure trove of identity puns, excellent comedic prowess by Glen Powell and a story unabashedly ludicrous and charming. Hit Man is based on the Texas Monthly article written back in 2001 about Gary Johnson, a teacher at a local community college who doubles as a staff investigator for the police. He poses as a hitman, donning multiple masks and identities, gathering evidence for the police to convict potential suspects.
Powell is an absolute star in the role of Gary: he’s the perfect blank canvas and is believable in every idiosyncratic character he has to play. It doesn’t matter who his client is and what kind of hitman they desire, he plays it – and still has time to inject a certain energy into his performance that is exclusively Gary. Despite all the costumes, masks and wigs he wears, audiences can still buy that this is the same guy. All of that works in delivering the strong message of performative identity. There’s a lot of discussion in the movie surrounding who a person really is. One key detail that further emphasises this theme – aside from the philosophical quotes of self-expression and personality – is the happy-go-lucky soundtrack that follows Gary around. It’s a constant reminder of him as this too-good-of-a-guy, police helper and willing teacher, contrasting against the cruel and cold-blooded idea of a hitman he conveys to his “clients”.
The production uses lots of close-ups and intimate shots of facial features, further expanding on the idea of prying someone open and never really knowing them. The camera briefly catches the actors’ eyes, almost like they’re scratching the surface of the fourth wall without completely breaking it, alluding to the fact that, while the premise is based on a real-life person, it follows a series of fictional events. The line delivery is excellent in cultivating comedy: dry and stoic, it errs on the side of satire. Powell’s narration is very hypnotic and adheres to the original article’s format. This uniformity in the script and the structure of the film amplifies the mess of tangled lies Gary finds himself in as he falls for Maddison (Adria Arjona), a client he talks out of killing her husband. Their whirlwind romance is another nod to Gary and the multiple identities he embodies. Their dynamic is harsh and seductive, with bad habits bleeding into each other, and undeniably intoxicating to watch.
Hit Man takes an interesting premise and elevates it to new heights. Powell’s comedic charm, Arjona’s captivating femme fatale performance, coupled with an excellent script and production, make for an excitingly funny and sexy watch, best enjoyed in the cinema with other movie lovers laughing their pants off.
Hit Man does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.