Review: Glen Powell is Our Homegrown Hit Man

Longhorn Glen Powell is having quite the year—and by that, I am of course referring to being named an Outstanding Young Texas Ex of The University of Texas at Austin.  

Among other accolades and accomplishments. Such as starring in the box office breakout Anyone But You, which has now grossed more than $200 million worldwide. Or being inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame. And gracing dozens of magazine covers and talk shows. And now, premiering his first full-length screenwriting credit alongside the legendary Richard Linklater. 

Hit Man, based on a 2001 Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth, released in theaters on May 24, 2024, and drops on Netflix on June 7. The film follows Gary Johnson (Powell), a college professor who also masquerades as a hit man for hire, helping the local police department put people away for solicitation of capital murder. When he falls for one of his “clients,” the lines begin to blur between personal and professional, real and pretend, with potentially fatal consequences.

Though Powell’s character is based on a real person, the beginning of the movie does require a suspension of disbelief—namely, that Powell could ever be “perfectly forgettable” in the way a fake hit man requires, even in his homely garb. But the psychological experiment of the plot requires the foundation for a dramatic evolution. Johnson talks with his ex-wife, a fellow professor, about the mutability of personality, and with his students about moral absolutism, setting up two of the core questions asked by the film: Can a person change who they truly are? Are the rules of right and wrong universally applicable? 

Johnson takes to fake-hit-manning like a fish to water. A tight yet effective supporting cast—especially police coworkers played by Austin Amelio, Sanjay Rao, and Retta—allows for Powell’s shapeshifting to shine. It’s easy to see how the real-life Johnson inspired Powell’s eager performance, and Powell and Linklater pay their respects. Eagle-eyed viewers will recognize criminal scenarios pulled straight from Hollandsworth’s original reporting, and a montage of archival footage also hearkens to the story’s origin. 

Meeting Madison Masters (Adria Arjona) is the first major obstacle in Johnson’s new lifestyle, to which he’s adapted with apparent ease. He shows up to their rendezvous as “Ron,” a straight-talking, modern-day Lone Ranger type. When Masters sidles up to his booth, deploying the code phrase (“Enjoying your pie?” / “All pie is good pie.”), police protocol is no match for their immediate chemistry. He recognizes her desperation and talks her down from engaging his “services,” yet sets off a chain of events that changes both of their lives. 

Arjona is radiant at every stage of her character development, and the close working relationship between the director and his two stars pays dividends on screen. Arjona and Powell pinball off one another, challenging their characters to reveal new vulnerabilities. Linklater’s expert composition and pacing allow all three creatives to play. 

Without any spoilers, a layered interrogation scene in the third act is some of the most high-wire cinema I’ve seen in a while. My stomach dropped at several of the twists throughout. I have a note that simply reads, “literally no idea what’s going to happen” from around half an hour until the end of the film.  

As a Longhorn, journalist, and lifelong Linklater fan, I am admittedly Hit Man’s target audience. But instead of scrolling aimlessly through various streaming services next time you settle into the couch, give yourself the gift of a watch that has it all—that asks of itself and its audience what it would look like to live life on your own terms, with passion and abandon. 

At turns a police procedural and sultry rom-com, philosophical quandary and epic thriller, Hit Man is sure to delight and inspire.

CREDITS: Matt Wright-Steel; courtesy of Netflix (2)

 

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