When someone talks about a “hit man movie,” or a film about a contract killer, certain images spring to mind: a lonely soul, hollowed out on the inside and waiting across a street with a sniper rifle; a merciless killer who takes no pleasure in life while dealing out cold, calculated professionalism in his trade; maybe a lot of glowering. These are familiar tropes which can sometimes be done well—see: David Fincher’s The Killer on Netflix as Exhibit A. Perhaps, however, their familiarity is why Richard Linklater’s Hit Man has struck a chord with everyone who’s laid eyes on it.
An apparently goofy and feel-good story about a wiseacre assassin and the love story he gets wrapped up in along the way, Hit Man is the latest collaboration between the director of Boyhood and the Before Sunrise trilogy and his evermore popular muse, Glen Powell. Powell appears on the verge of finally breaking through as a legitimate movie star thanks to scene-stealing work as Hangman in Top Gun: Maverick and his dogged determination to bring back the rom-com, this time with Anyone But You, which proved to be a sleeper hit at the box office. (Funny, ain’t it, how audiences still show up for romantic comedies if you market them enough and leave them in theaters for more than two weeks?)
Yet Hit Man could be the movie to put him over the top. Working from a screenplay he co-wrote with Powell himself, Linklater seems eager to reveal the full dimensions of an actor he has already worked with twice via Everybody Wants Some!! and the extremely underrated Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood. And according to everyone I’ve spoken with who caught Hit Man at either Sundance, TIFF, or the New York Film Festival, they knocked it out of the park.
An apparently groovy thriller that is part rom-com courtesy of the relationship between Powell’s Gary Johnson and a woman played by Adria Arjona (Bigs on Andor and Martine in Morbius), Hit Man follows Gary Johnson, a college professor who finds himself thrown into the world of undercover law enforcement and facilitators of fatalities when he is convinced to pose as a hitman in order to ensnare Texan businessmen with murder on their minds. The film is based on real events reported on by Skip Hollandsworth in Texas Monthly, with the real Johnson alleged to have been hired more than 60 times to rub folks out. And it’s been the toast of film festivals. It almost makes it a shame, then, that one the key components for box office success stories like Top Gun and Anyone But You is getting his big starring vehicle released on… Netflix.
No matter what the venue is though, this is one streaming movie to keep an eye out on.
Hit Man releases on Netflix on June 7.