'Hit Man' Review: Richard Linklater's New Netflix Movie Just Isn't ...

8 Jun 2024

Glen Powell and Adria Arjona in 'Hit Man' on Netflix.

Credit: Netflix

Richard Linklater's Hit Man is one of most generic and unsatisfying movies I've seen in a very long time.

Hit Man movie - Figure 1
Photo Forbes

Linkletter—the director of films like Dazed and Confused, School Of Rock, Bad News Bears and numerous other pop culture touchstones—has released one of his rare duds in Netflix’s new comedy-noir -whatever this is supposed to be.

The film opens with a quotation from Nietzsche: “the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Live at war with your peers and yourselves!”

This is spoken by the film’s protagonist, Gary Johnston, during a lecture to his college philosophy class. The rest of the quotation—the part he leaves out while asking his students for its meaning—reads:

“Be robbers and conquerors as long as you cannot be rulers and possessors, you seekers of knowledge! Soon the age will be past when you could be content to live hidden in forests like shy deer! At long last the search for knowledge will reach out for its due: — it will want to rule and possess, and you with it!”

Spoilers follow.

The rest of the film is spent, haltingly and with great clumsiness, exploring this notion. That a man who has lived rather timidly, very much in the shadow of others, could shed one identity and adopt another. That this man could take his normal life, cast it aside, and rather abruptly take on the life of a criminal, suffering no consequences whatsoever for his actions. It’s an odd take on morality.

Forbes VettedFor You

A Movie With No Identity

Linklater’s story takes several shapes. At first, I thought it was just a goofy oddball comedy in which Gary (Glen Powell) would don funny wigs and personas to catch bad guys as a fake hit man working for the police.

Gary in one of his disguises.

Credit: Netflix

This was a little bit funny and entertaining, though it was clear the movie wanted to get it out of the way as quickly as possible in order to get us to the plot. So after little more than a montage of Gary’s undercover work, we meet Madison.

Madison is played by Adria Arjona who I previously only knew as Bix in the wonderful Star Wars series, Andor. I didn’t even recognize her at first in Hit Man, though I thought she looked familiar and not just because she reminded me a bit of a young Salma Hayek.

After convincing Madison not to go through with a hit on her husband—they hit it off and he could tell she wasn’t doing it for money or out of hate, but because she felt imprisoned by her husband and so Gary felt sorry for her—she texts him sometime later and soon they have a blooming romance built on lies. He continues to tell her that he’s Ron, a hit man, and that their relationship can only continue in secret. She finds him exciting and kind and agrees to these conditions. Ron allows Gary to shed his old self and become the confident, sexy man he always wished he could be.

And here I wonder, if it’s not a goofy comedy about a dude in wigs with funny accents, is it actually just a rom-com? Is it mostly an excuse to have Arjano dress up in sexy outfits? Because the second third of the movie sure feels that way.

Madison and Gary

Credit: Netflix

Then things go wrong. Madison convinces Ron/Gary to go out dancing. They run into her abusive soon-to-be-ex-husband and there’s a confrontation. Then they run into Gary’s crooked cop co-worker, Jasper (Austin Amelio of The Walking Dead) who recognizes Madison. Then Madison’s ex-husband tries to hire Gary—not realizing it’s him—to kill her. It’s a comedy of errors at this point.

Gary, oddly enough, doesn’t just trick the husband and have him arrested. Instead, he makes it clear who he is and the man runs off spooked. Gary warns Madison that she has to make scarce because her husband might try to kill her, but she refuses. And then her husband turns up dead, shot to death with a .38—the same type of gun Madison owns.

At this point I’m starting to wonder if we’re actually watching Linklater’s oddly colorful take on film noir. The husband had an insurance policy, you see. And Madison admits to Gary that she killed him. She’s scared. She needs his help.

Clearly—clearly!—Madison is a femme fatale using Gary to get what she wants. It’s a classic setup, only it’s been disguised by all this goofy comedy and romance stuff, and the lack of any other indications that we’re watching a film noir. But now it all adds up. Madison has been using Gary, who she must have suspected wasn’t who he said he was, or at least she figured she could play him for a sucker.

I am still convinced of this theory as the end approaches, and when Jasper shows up and blackmails them, offering his silence for a big chunk of that insurance money, all the pieces come crashing together. When Madison poisons Jasper, it’s clear that my theory is correct. She acts scared—whatever will she do? If only someone could help her!

Naturally, Gary obliges. He puts a bag over Jasper’s head, suffocating him, telling Madison that he’ll dispose of the body and make it look like a suicide. Nobody will care about a crooked, vile cop like Jasper turning up dead.

All that we need now is for Madison to double-cross Gary. Once he crossed that line, crossed the moral Rubicon and became a killer, his protection from the femme fatale is destroyed. I’ve seen Double Indemnity and plenty of other film noirs. I’ve seen how this works. He’s fallen from grace and she’s bested him. Surely, he’s next. Or he’ll wake up and she’ll be gone, leaving him with a guilty conscience and an empty bed, while she drives away into the sunset with a million bucks.

Happily Ever After

None of this happens. Instead, they get away with it. They get married and have kids and apparently nobody notices or cares or thinks that’s suspicious. No further investigation into Madison’s husband’s death apparently takes place. They don't even try to make it look like Jasper did it in order to take the heat off of them. They sit around the table with their kids telling cute stories about how they met. The end.

Ugh. I don’t think this needed to be a morality lesson, but there are some rules when you’re crafting a noir (or any good story) and this breaks them not in some clever or subversive way, but rather . . . I'm not really sure. Just to give the movie a garishly happy ending, I suppose. Treacly and cloying. We even get a final speech from Gary to his class about seizing their own identities. Carpe-friggin-diem. I suppose we can view it as irony or as some dark twist, but the guys they killed were terrible anyways, so why should we not celebrate? Madison double-crossing Gary would have at least been surprising.

Here’s the problem with such an atrocious ending: The rest of the movie was only average at best. At times it was plodding. Often it was implausible. It was rarely funny enough or steamy enough to work as a screwball comedy or a rom-com. Arjano is gorgeous and talented, and Powell is an attractive and charming guy, but they don’t have the star power to elevate such a thin script. Linklater has made some great films, but despite this one’s high critic and audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes, this isn’t one of them. The ending could have swayed me, could have convinced me that it was all a clever setup, tricking me until the last 20 minutes, with a great final twist of the knife. Instead, I was left rolling my eyes and wondering how on earth so many people thought this was a good movie.

Hit Man

Credit: Netflix

And if this was some attempt to create a Nietzschean happy ending—where casting off the moral bonds of a weak society results in happiness and fulfilment—then I offer up this quotation from The Anti-Christ:

“The most spiritual men, as the strongest, find their happiness where others would find their destruction: in the labyrinth, in hardness against themselves and others, in experiments. Their joy is self-conquest: asceticism becomes in them nature, need, and instinct. Difficult tasks are a privilege to them; to play with burdens that crush others, a recreation. Knowledge–a form of asceticism. They are the most venerable kind of man: that does not preclude their being the most cheerful and the kindliest.”

Nothing that Gary does in the end is hard. He does not face burdens that would crush other men. He gets away with an easy murder he didn’t even plan, bags the girl with only the tiniest friction, and lives a boring life in the suburbs. What an empty ending to an empty film, with few laughs and little else to show for it.

P.S. Yes, this is based very loosely on a true story. No, none of the twists and turns and sex that serve as the film’s plot are part of that true story. Surely a better embellishment could have been dragged out of the subject matter. How bizarre.

Read more
Similar news
This week's most popular news