Richard Linklater’s Hit Man might just be the movie that proves Glen Powell is the next huge Hollywood leading man.
PLOT: A mild-mannered psychology professor (Glen Powell) interested in electronics takes a sideline bugging undercover cops in sting operations, specializing in setting up phony hits. When the usual undercover guy is suspended, he’s enlisted to pose as a hitman. He turns out to be a natural at undercover work, with the police using him to entrap people taking out contracts. Things get complicated when he falls for an abused wife (Adria Arjona) wanting to take out her husband.
REVIEW: Richard Linklater’s Hit Man is the movie where Glen Powell finally becomes a legit star. Granted, there was little to no doubt remaining in anyone’s head after his breakout turn in Top Gun: Maverick, but in Hit Man, his charisma is so white hot and old-school in that true movie star way that he should rocket to the top of everyone’s young leading man list. Linklater previously cast Powell (with a solid role) in Everybody Wants Some, as well as in his more recent Apollo 10 1/2, and seems to know precisely what his leading man’s strengths are. This is tailored to his talents like a bespoke suit.
Powell (who also had a hand in the screenplay) plays a real(ish) guy named Gary Johnson, who worked for the Houston police as an undercover man, posing as a hitman for hire. Through clever use of famous hitman movie clips, the movie tells us that this profession doesn’t really exist in the way Hollywood seems to think it does. People may kill for money, but it’s not the ordinary criminal profession people think, yet we, as a culture, choose to believe such a thing exists.
That’s where Johnson comes in, with his job being to get perps to pay him to kill people, and then they get some jail time for plotting a murder. Part of Hit Man is based on a true story, but other parts are made up, with Linklater only revealing the “truth” at the end. No matter; it just exists to give Powell an old-fashioned movie star part to sink his teeth into.
Despite being such a good-looking guy, Powell is convincing as both the character’s natural, geeky self and any of his more badass identities. The character proves to be a master of disguise, allowing Powell to play a whole host of characters, with him enjoying playing one tough guy so much that he starts to become the persona full-time.
Powell’s matched by Adria Arjona, in her best role to date, as a quasi-femme fatale who wants him to off her good-for-nothing husband. By falling for her, Gary starts to fall into a film noir rabbit hole, but Linklater, who knows his genres inside and out, always keeps it unpredictable. Whatever you think people in this movie are bound to do, thanks to the conventions of the genre, he has them do the opposite. It’s like a mixture of the original Fletch, with heavy doses of The Sting and Stakeout thrown into the pleasing cocktail. Powell and Arjona are legitimately sexy together, with their love scenes having more heat than we’ve seen in a mainstream Hollywood movie in quite some time. Their chemistry is white hot.
Additionally, Linklater works with an excellent supporting cast that seems to be a mixture of local non-actors and professionals, like Parks and Recreation’s Retta as one of the cops handling Gary. One of Powell’s Everybody Wants Some co-stars, Austin Amelio plays a racist, hard-hearted cop the more tender Gary replaces as an undercover man, with him probably the closest the movie has to antagonist. Notably, despite being a movie about killing, the film is pretty non-violent and charming. If there was ever a feel-good movie to be made about murder-for-hire, this is it.
Hit Man began its fall film festival run without a studio distributor, but it seems likely to score a big sale, with it one of the most crowd-pleasing films I’ve seen at this year’s TIFF. Powell could even emerge as a dark horse Oscar contender, although the movie might ultimately be too light to win over the Academy. Whatever the case, it seems like a surefire hit – whether in theaters or on streaming. If it gets a distributor behind it that believes in it, there’s no telling what this could do for Powell’s career.