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Glen Powell Shines in Richard Linklater’s Refreshing Romantic Comedy ‘Hit Man’

Not since the final outing in Richard Linklater’s cherished Before trilogy over a decade ago has the acclaimed American director delivered a rom-com as refreshing and invigorating as Hit Man. The twenty-third feature film of the Boyhood director showcases a measured blend of smart humor, seductive undertones, and a delightful lead performance from Glen Powell. What emerges is a sexy, offbeat rebranding of film noir that resonates with both movie buffs and casual viewers alike.

The film’s vibrant confidence draws audiences into the unusual life of Powell’s character, Gary Johnson, a psychology professor-turned-faux hitman for the New Orleans police department. Linklater’s direction cleverly subverts the conventional tropes of hitman cinema, providing a sly commentary on the genre while mischievously challenging the cultural myth of the lone assassin.

Powell, who doubles as co-writer and producer, deftly discards the machismo veneer that his role in Top Gun seemingly cemented. Instead, he delivers a refreshing tour de force performance. With his dorky hairdo, a knack for explicating Nietzsche and Jung, and a genuinely nerdy charm, Gary appears an unlikely participant in the criminal underworld. By day, he inspires his students with quotes about living dangerously, a stark contrast to his birdwatching hobby and solitary dinners with his cats named Id and Ego. However, when Gary steps into his clandestine role as an undercover hitman, he unveils an unexpected talent for duplicity, transforming into a master of disguise with many theatrical alter-egos.

Inspired by a true story, Hit Man delves into the dichotomy between Gary’s mundane daytime existence and his thrilling nocturnal activities. The real Gary Johnson, whose life inspired the film, never actually crossed the line into murder; instead, he used his talents to capture those who sought his lethal services. Powell captures this chameleon-like quality with effortless charm, switching between Gary’s everyday awkwardness and his flamboyant alter-egos in a manner reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s early impersonations.

Powell’s transformation scenes, where he adopts outlandish costumes and accents, are comedic gold. Each transformation is more outrageous and inventive than the last, with Powell experimenting with accents and detailed backstories to match. From biker leather to psychopathic jumpsuits, from the suave look of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho to the disheveled appearance of a red-neck drifter, the costumes are a visual treat.

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. Gary’s expertise in psychology allows him to tailor his disguises to the psyche of each client, making his performances convincingly diverse and over-the-top.

Amidst the lighter, humorous tones, Powell maintains a thread of Gary’s true character visible throughout his transformations: an awkward yet fundamentally decent individual eager to explore his undercover fantasies. It’s a nuanced portrayal that evokes sympathy and laughter, ensuring that each disguise feels like an extension of Gary’s repressed desires and latent talents rather than mere costume changes.

Adding another layer to the film is the romantic subplot with Andor star Adria Arjona as Maddy, a woman desperate to extricate herself from an abusive ex. When Gary, posing as the suave hitman “Ron,” persuades her to reconsider her deadly plan, sparks fly in unexpected places. Powell seamlessly toggles between Gary’s bumbling earnestness and Ron’s confident swagger, complementing Arjona’s vulnerable portrayal of Maddy. Each interaction between them is magnetic, filled with flirtatious banter in dimly lit bars, steamy bedroom cosplay moments, and stolen glances that bring to mind the sultry tension fans of Linklater’s Hawke-Delpy collaborations have come to adore.

As the narrative unfolds, Gary’s journey becomes increasingly complex. His deepening relationship with Maddy blurs the lines between his real and assumed identities, building to a climactic showdown that leaves viewers on edge. Powell and Arjona’s chemistry reaches a boiling point here, their performances imbuing the scene with palpable passion and tension.

True to Linklater’s signature style, Hit Man incorporates philosophical musings on identity, morality, and the constructs of self, drawing from Gary’s academic background to enrich its motifs. Remarkably, these themes are handled with a lightness that avoids slipping into existential angst.

Hit Man stands as a smart, sexy rom-com that leaves Powell’s recent on-screen dalliance with Sydney Sweeney in the dust. While it is a relatively safer endeavor for Linklater, examining professional ethics and human morality, its effectiveness stems from the nostalgic old-school charm and sex appeal of the Powell-Arjona dynamic.

Hit Man is currently streaming on Netflix.