Hit Man review | Glen Powell shoots for stardom in Richard Linklater’s brilliant comedy

glen powell stars in hit man
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Glen Powell shines as a Top Gun for hire in Richard Linklater’s rom-com-thriller. Here’s our Hit Man review.

If Glen Powell really is basing his career off that Tom Cruise bloke, he’s going the right way about it.

He’s done his Top Gun, of course, with, er, Top Gun: Maverick. 2018’s Set It Up could be his Jerry Maguire. But it’s Hit Man, his third collaboration with director Richard Linklater and his first writer/producer credit, which might just cement him as a real contender for his generation’s Cruise-crown. If Hit Man blows up like it deserves to, it could make him a movie star.

Loosely based on the real-life story of Gary Johnson, the film plays brilliantly to Powell’s strengths. Remarkably, for someone with his Roman statue physique, he starts the story as a nerdy psychology and philosophy professor who helps police sting operations with tech support on the weekends. But when their regular undercover agent (Austin Amelio’s Jasper) is suspended, Gary is forced into his colleague’s jeans, posing as a gun-for-hire for an endless parade of would-be accomplices to murder.

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To everyone’s surprise, he’s pretty good at it. Thankfully for us, it also gives Powell an excuse to show off his extensive dressing-up box, swapping between Russian mobster and smooth-talking assassin depending on what his targets expect to see in a hit man.

It’s all going rather well, until Gary meets Adria Arjona’s Maddy, who wants his help murdering her abusive husband. From here, if we’re sticking with the Tom Cruise parallels, everything goes a bit Cocktail. After already cementing his rom-com credentials with Set It Up, Powell could honestly have chemistry with a ceiling fan, but he doesn’t need to – sparks fly between the two from the off, and their relationship proves a sizzling through-line for the action to follow.

Because the action, inevitably, does follow. As you’d expect for a film about fake hit men and undercover cops, things don’t go entirely to plan. The delightfully twisty plot makes room for plenty of tense moments as Gary tries to hide his identity from Maddy, who has fallen for his sexy alter-ego rather than the bird-watching academic underneath.

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While the murder-y premise goes to some pretty dark places on paper, Linklater’s direction keeps the film light on its feet. Gary’s philosophical musings on identity provide another rock-solid basis for his change throughout the film, resulting in a performance that manages to be utterly charming and completely transformational at the same time. In another parallel to Top Gun: Maverick, the plot of Hit Man is impressively watertight.

All that adds up to a hilariously charming genre mash-up, and possibly one of the most flat-out entertaining films of 2023. Smart, sexy, and consistently funny, Hit Man (were it not likely to head straight to Netflix) seems tailor-made to make Glen Powell into a star. All we have to do to help him along is to go and see it.

Hit Man is screening at the BFI London Film Festival.

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