Hit Man review: Glen Powell delivers the movie-star goods in Netflix action comedy

Richard Linklater’s latest film works as proof of Powell’s versatility: he’s goofy and sweet one minute, tough the next

Clarisse Loughrey
Thursday 23 May 2024 16:31
Hit Man

Whenever Glen Powell leans in, his eyes hungry and his smile upturned like an oxbow lake, he looks a little like his Top Gun: Maverick co-star, Tom Cruise. Or, at the very least, he exudes that same sense of concrete intent, performed with the easy confidence of flicking a cigarette butt across a dive bar floor. It’s said that franchise cinema killed the movie star. But Powell could certainly pass as one, and it’s all on display in Netflix’s Hit Man, which he co-wrote and produced with director and longtime collaborator Richard Linklater, who gave him roles in Fast Food Nation, Everybody Wants Some!!, and Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood.

In Hit Man, Powell stars as Gary Johnson, a real-life guy whose undercover operations were very different from what we see on screen (as the film stresses). This Gary is a humble dweeb. A professor of psychology and philosophy at the University of New Orleans, he comes home from a long day of being bullied by his students for driving a Honda Civic to feed his bird and two cats, Ego and Id. But he’s content and has a tidy side gig working tech on the local police’s sting operations, catching would-be murderers by having a cop (Austin Amelio’s Jasper) pose as a low-rent hitman.

As Gary’s narration points out, the idea of a readily attainable rent-a-killer is pure Hollywood bull, a naive fantasy of a quick (if ethically troublesome) fix to life’s most stubborn problems. But, clearly, it’s a tempting prospect to some, and when Gary is suddenly asked to step into Jasper’s role, he becomes fully invested in transforming himself into other people’s ideal saviours. At one point, it’s a full-blown impression of Christian Bale in American Psycho, glossy skin and all. At another, it’s a refined British flavour of sociopathy that’s shades of Tilda Swinton.

Powell’s transition between identities plays like a magic trick, with Gary as the genuine Clark Kent ruse, his square-jawed handsomeness hidden behind a slicked-down side part, wireframe glasses, and terrible posture. Hit Man also works as proof of Powell’s versatility: he’s goofy and sweet one minute, tough the next. And, when Gary finds himself falling head over heels in love with one of his targets, Adria Arjona’s Maddy, Powell turns on the charm like a blowtorch, in a way that proves that all the buzz around his chemistry with his Anyone But You romcom co-star Sydney Sweeney wasn’t empty social media talk.

Maddy hires Gary’s hitman, now a leather-jacketed, GQ cover star-type called Ron, to take out her abusive husband. But the sincerity of her plight leads Gary to warn her off a potential life behind bars and instead strike out on her own. Soon enough, they’re embroiled in a highly charged affair that’s all the more sexy for the many lies upon which it’s built.

Glen Powell in Richard Linklater’s ‘Hit Man'
Glen Powell in Richard Linklater’s ‘Hit Man' (Netflix)

Arjona matches Powell’s passions, while Linklater, with a touch of his signature nonchalance, sprinkles in a few of Gary’s classroom musings on whether people can truly change. The director’s films, from Dazed and Confused to the Before trilogy, have always been concerned with how we can find our place in this world. In Hit Man, Powell can transform so readily, that answer seems to be wherever we like.

Dir: Richard Linklater. Starring: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio, Retta, Sanjay Rao. 15, 115 mins

‘Hit Man’ is in cinemas from 24 May, and streams on Netflix from 7 June

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