Film Review: Hit Man; Netflix’s sexy actioner is a much deeper, more philosophical outing than expected

The blending of genres isn’t as easy as Richard Linklater makes it look in the deliciously fun Hit Man, a-sexy-romantic-comedy-cum-philosophical-action-film that the School of Rock helmer and lead charmer Glen Powell have co-scribed together in a seamless fashion.

Given that Linklater has so often deviated from the expectation put forward in some of his films – I mean, we all thought Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy were actually going to end up together in Before Sunrise, right? – it shouldn’t be a surprise that Hit Man promises itself as one thing, before pivoting to another.

Taking its inspiration from the true story of Gary Johnson, a community professor who worked as a fake ‘assassin’ for the Houston police, Powell (who is doing his finest to become the next great movie star presence on screen, following Top Gun: Maverick and last year’s enduring success Anyone But You) encapsulates a multitude of “personalities” with his take on Johnson, a nerdy, non-threatening intellectual who dabbles with undercover police work and is called upon to impersonate a hit man in a sting operation when the department’s usual informant falls through.

None of Gary’s co-workers think he’s naturally equipped for the job, but tapping into a more dominant, slightly psychotic mindset allows him to successfully execute the mission, with his tongue far more silver than anyone anticipated; Claudette (Retta) and Phil (Sanjay Rao), two officers Gary works under, have a humorous conversation about how they’d much rather be in the company of his other personas rather than he as himself.

From hereon, Gary becomes the go-to for the department, with him changing up his appearance for each “mission” depending on the client, and it’s these brief sequences that Hit Man truly has a lot of fun, with Powell showcasing a range so few actors would have the opportunity to do so in one film alone; his comedic take on Javier Bardem’s deranged, stoic hitman from No Country For Old Men is a real treat.

Powell’s one-man show would honestly be enough to keep Hit Man‘s 115 minutes running smoothly, but stories like this always require a feisty female presence, and the introduction of Maddy (Adria Arjona) throws Gary into a tailspin, both personally and professionally.  Trying to escape her abusive ex-husband, Maddy’s hiring of Gary technically puts her in the firing line of criminal activity, but he can see her desperation and, against better judgement, he tries to save her, leading to a steamy romance between the two.

It’s their tryst that shifts the tone of Hit Man.  And whilst there’s still an underlying sense of humour throughout, Linklater and Powell’s script adopts a far more serious tone the further the film plays, with Gary’s questioning of who he truly is taking shape: Is he still the nerdy, almost invisible professor playing pretend? Or has there always been this dominant personality within him, and his killer instincts just needed seasoning to sprout?

The factors of both entertainment and the questioning of human experiences is what makes Hit Man as fascinating as it is.  Some audiences basing their expectations off an action-adjacent title and the imagery of multiple Powells in various costumed form may need to be checked, as Linklater’s take on the genre is ultimately moonlighting as something deeper.


Hit Man is available to stream on Netflix from June 7th, 2024.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.