TIFF Review: Richard Linklater’s ‘Hit Man’

Hit Man Review - 2023 Richard Linklater Movie Film

Vague Visages’ Hit Man review contains minor spoilers. Richard Linklater’s 2023 movie features Glen Powell, Adria Arjona and Austin Amelio. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.


Sometimes it takes a film of a certain caliber to make you realize all the things Hollywood has been lacking for years — legitimately smart films capable of effortlessly blending multiple genres, with romantic leads who have sexual chemistry and actual movie star energy from actors who haven’t been absorbed into the Marvel and DC franchises. Richard Linklater’s Hit Man offers all of these things and more, channeling the charm and sense of fun from Hollywood’s heyday. With an almost preternaturally charismatic performance from Glen Powell in the lead role, the film is easily one of the director’s most entertaining and emotionally satisfying productions.

Gary Johnson (Powell) has a comfortable — if not particularly exciting — life. He teaches philosophy at a local college, lives in a simple apartment with two cats and does his best to ignore the pangs of loneliness when they come. Gary does not seem unhappy, but it’s clear that he’s stuck, unable to move forward with his life or seek the change that might make it more fulfilling. It’s only when the protagonist gets pushed outside of his comfort zone that he begins to blossom. Gary works part time as a tech analyst for the New Orleans police department when he is asked to fill in for a suspended undercover agent, playing a fake hit man to collect evidence against people they want to charge with solicitation of murder. To everyone’s surprise, Gary is a natural, and he quickly begins to relish the performance elements of the job, cultivating a wide range of personas to match each person’s concept of a hit man. But when the protagonist meets Madison (Adria Arjona), a wife who wants to murder her abusive husband, he becomes emotionally connected to her, blurring the lines between Hit Man and Everyman in dangerous ways.

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Powell owns every inch of Hit Man. He’s been circling superstardom for years, but this deserves to be the movie that pushes him into the upper echelons of Hollywood. Powell is a supernova of charisma in Hit Man, throwing himself into each different character Gary is asked to play with poise and charm. Ron — his much cooler alter ego — is purely aspirational, selling audiences on the idea that it’s possible to become the person that you want to be, simply by faking it long enough. This concept of shifting identities is peppered throughout Hit Man.

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Hit Man Review - 2023 Richard Linklater Movie Film

Another thing peppered throughout Hit Man? Pure, unadulterated horniness. Linklater wastes absolutely none of the palpable chemistry between Powell and Arjona, and every scene that they have together crackles with electricity. He also understands exactly what makes these two performers so appealing, and does not hesitate to use it. One would not have guessed that Linklater would be the director to help bring sex back to the mainstream Hollywood movie, but it’s a delightful surprise.

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Although Hit Man is set in the present day, there’s a lot that feels like a throwback to the type of easy breezy movies that Paul Newman and Robert Redford starred in during the 1960s and 1970s. Linklater has an energetic, playful directorial style, keeping the film light on its feet while avoiding convoluted twists and turns. Hit Man is well-paced and cleverly written by both Linklater and Powell, who share the screenwriting credit. Sure, there are moments that stretch believability, as the male laead says, with a straight face, that he’s well-suited for the job because he’s extremely forgettable, only to spend the entire movie burning himself into the minds of audiences with his magnetic screen presence. But the wilder aspects of the Hit Man script play out less like mistakes and more like a magic trick: just go along for the ride and don’t spend too much time trying to pick it apart.

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With Linklater behind the camera and Powell in front of it, Hit Man was always going to be a fun movie. The lead actor has pure star wattage for miles, and the director can safely be relied upon to bring a sense of joyfulness to his work. But Hit Man –packed with good humor, sex and smart writing — just might be the most entertaining movie to hit theaters in quite some time. If nothing else, it finally cements Powell as a bona fide Hollywood star and proves that Arjona — who matches her male co-star beat for beat — deserves way more attention than she’s received.

Audrey Fox (@theaudreyfox) is a features editor and film/television critic at Looper, with bylines at RogerEbert.com, Nerdist, /Film and IGN, amongst other outlets. She has been blessed by the tomato overlords with their coveted seal of approval. Audrey received her BA in film from Clark University and her MA in International Relations from Harvard University. When she’s not watching movies, Audrey loves historical non-fiction, theater, traveling and playing the violin (poorly).

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