One would not expect a film about an unlikely hit man to be one of the year’s sexiest meditations on the nature of identity, but here we are. Richard Linklater latest film Hit Man is a breezy comedy-romance that weaves philosophical questions into its tale loosely based on a true story.
The plot revolves around Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), a philosophy professor who is by all measures utterly forgettable. When not conducting lectures on theories of morality and the nature of the self (his cats are aptly named ID and EGO), Johnson moonlights as a tech expert with the local police. Camped out in surveillance vans, he ensures that all the recording devices are functioning properly in undercover sting operations. However, when one of the top undercover officers, the morally corrupt Jasper (Austin Amelio), gets suspended for using excessive force on a teenager moments before the next sting, Johnson finds himself filling in last minute.
Pretending to be a hit man for hire, Johnson must use everything he remembers from movies and his surveillance experience to convince the unsuspecting mark that he is the real deal. To his own surprise, it turns out that Johnson is quite good at role playing. Soon he is helping to rack up arrests and constructing a roster of characters to fit each clients’ needs. While the lawyers for those he helps arrest claim he is participating in police entrapment, Johnson believes that he is merely catching individuals who had already made up their minds to commit a crime.
His moral compass begins to falter though when, while undercover, he meets Madison (Adria Arjona), an attractive woman who is desperate to leave her abusive marriage. Finding himself drawn to her, he strategically convinces her to change her mind about hiring a killer before she can self-incriminate herself. Violating the standard police protocol, Johnson begins a secret relationship with Madison, who still believes he is someone else, that gets increasingly complicated when her ex, Ray (Evan Holtzman), refuses to move on without her.
Carrying a similar sexy cool vibe as Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, part of what makes Hit Man such a treat is the insanely hot chemistry that Glen Powell and Adria Arjona share. As Johnson and Madison’s relationship evolves from one steamy encounter to the next, the audience feels as if they are the third wheel observing it all through the fingers that should be shielding our eyes. The chemistry not only sells the romantic beats, but also ensures that one remain invested in Johnson’s journey even when unsure if Madison can truly be trusted.
Powell’s convincing turn as Johnson, conveying an everyman appeal despite his roguish good looks, helps Linklater to explore themes of identity while also slowly raising the tension in the film. As Johnson’s lies begin to catch up with him, and the questionable motives of characters surface, one is never quite sure how he will get out of the jam he finds himself in. However, even in its most nail-biting moments, Hit Man remains a comedy first and foremost. Linklater ensures one is laughing even when sitting on the edge of the seat in suspense.
The lighter tone also allows the film to have fun in its exploration into this time period in Johnson’s life. Whether indulging in the various ways he constructs the psychology of his characters, noting cinema’s role in the hit man lore, or poking fun at the scenarios which compel average folks to seek assassins, Linklater’s film is full of spirited moments. An effortlessly charming film that is undeniably sexy, Hit Man reminds us that our identities are meaningless without having something or someone to be passionate about.