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Hit Man review: Netflix’s crime caper is a surprisingly great rom-com



Hit Man review: Netflix’s crime caper is a surprisingly great rom-com

I first noticed Hit Man, the brand new Richard Linklater film now streaming on Netflix, at an early morning press screening on the London Movie Competition. The movie performed rather well and the viewers was into it, however I used to be nonetheless shocked when one late scene drew enormous peals of laughter from the viewers and an precise applause break at its climax. An applause break! At 9:30 within the morning! From movie critics! British movie critics! (One thing you might not find out about British folks: We don’t applaud in film theaters. Ever.)

Simply as stunning: the content material of the scene that drew that response. Given the film’s premise — a professor poses as a contract killer to assist the police arrest folks for soliciting homicide, however will get misplaced within the position — you may guess the viewers was hooting at a Tarantino-esque slapstick massacre. However the scene was, actually, probably the most cleverly conceived and delightfully performed piece of pure romantic comedy I’d seen in years.

Picture: Matt Lankes/Netflix

As a filmmaker, Linklater is fluent in style conventions, however he typically finds his personal area within the cracks between them. In that sense, Hit Man is true to type. Written by Linklater and its star (and frequent Linklater collaborator, and High Gun: Maverick heavy) Glen Powell, it’s an easygoing film that doesn’t break a sweat because it flits between comedy, romance, suspense, philosophical musing, and a quiet tinge of noirish darkness. Beneath a simple, pleasing exterior, the film is elusive and susceptible to shape-shifting — a bit like its primary character.

That character is Gary Johnson (Powell), a placid, nerdy professor of philosophy and psychology with a expertise for electronics. That expertise leads him right into a aspect hustle working recording tools for the New Orleans police division, and serving to with a sting operation the place a cop named Jasper (The Strolling Useless’s Austin Amelio, in venal mode) poses as an murderer to catch folks within the act of soliciting homicide. When Jasper will get suspended and Gary is parachuted into the sting on the final minute, he discovers a brand new expertise for role-play. He takes to being a pretend hitman like a duckling takes to water.

Gary, scholar of human nature that he’s, pours himself into researching his marks and establishing identities that may work for every of them. Contract killers are a fable anyway, he causes, so why not lean into the fiction and play into the expectations fashioned by a long time of cinematic assassins? Powell has a whole lot of enjoyable donning wigs and voices to mimic a comical vary of stereotypical killers. At one level, he does a completely uncanny impression of Christian Bale in American Psycho.

Glen Powell grinning suavely in shades in Hit Man

Picture: Netflix

Up thus far, Hit Man is a more-or-less true story. There was an actual Gary Johnson, in Houston, Texas, a mild-mannered cat-lover who moonlighted for the police as a pretend hitman within the Nineties and 2000s. For the film, Powell and Linklater tailored a 2001 Texas Month-to-month article about the true Johnson, who may not have donned so many disguises, however actually received the arrests.

It’s a superb yarn a few resonant character — the unassuming everyman who can tackle one other id to slide right into a netherworld. Within the strategy of fictionalizing this story, Powell and Linklater spin it out in two instructions: a philosophical inquiry into the mutability of the self, and a lightweight romantic thriller. Gary adopts the position of cucumber-cool hitman “Ron” to fulfill Madison Masters (Adria Arjona), a spouse who desires her abusive husband killed. He’s smitten — however is it with Madison, or with Ron, the super-smooth, assured, uninhibited model of himself he has invented for her?

For its first half, Hit Man ambles alongside pleasantly in a typical Linklater mode: the anecdotal shaggy-dog story that takes loads of time to muse about its personal implications. (Fairly actually: Gary quotes Nietzsche and ponders questions of id and morality along with his faculty class. Additionally, his cats are named Ego and Id.)

Glen Powell in a long black wig, leather coat, and weird sneer in Hit Man

Picture: Netflix

The stakes for a hitman film the place actual hitmen don’t exist appear fairly low, however the dual-identity setup with Gary/Ron and Madison is a classical Hollywood comedy gambit, like one thing out of a Nineteen Forties Preston Sturges film. It kicks the film into an uptempo second half that’s extra constructed, plotty, and business than Linklater’s normal extraordinarily chill work. It’s straightforward to think about it finished in a extra heightened, screwball mode — possibly one thing like Jonathan Demme’s quirky, snowballing Nineteen Eighties comedies One thing Wild and Married to the Mob.

That isn’t Linklater’s vibe, although, and that isn’t this film. Powell and Arjona make a powerfully horny, charming pair, and Powell and Linklater discover intelligent methods to enmesh the characters’ simmering romance in a tightening internet of compromise, hazard, and deceit with out tipping into the crime film clichés the film is spoofing.

The payoff is that good rom-com second, the one which drew applause from a crowd of sleepy London critics. It’s a spectacularly conceived, written, and carried out scene that performs out on two ranges concurrently: one within the fiery, hard-bitten dialogue, one within the flashing eyes, frantic gestures, and crackling chemistry of the 2 leads. On this second, Hit Man joyously (and pointedly) unites the joys of reference to the joys of hazard, and operates harmoniously as two movies directly — the identical manner Gary is probably turning into two folks directly.

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell look lovingly at each other outside a bar decorated with fairy lights in Hit Man

Picture: Brian Roedel/Netflix

It’s such a satisfying scene that it greater than makes up for some slackness within the script elsewhere. Arjona’s half is underwritten, and as prepared as Powell and Linklater are to ponder the large questions, they gloss over a few of the ethical implications of the storyline: Gary’s controversial gaslighting, Madison’s culpability and company, and whether or not the police operation was wholesale entrapment within the first place.

There’s a darker aspect to this story and these characters, strongly hinted at by one surprisingly merciless late flip within the plot. Powell and Linklater nod to that darkness, however in the end resolve to not go there. Simply as Gary can resolve to show himself into Ron, they’ll resolve to steer this slippery film right into a sunnier place. Hit Man may have been a whole lot of completely different motion pictures, and a part of the enjoyment of the movie is in how playfully it gestures towards all these completely different potential variations of itself. However in the end, that one good scene defines it as an amazing romantic comedy with a scrumptious chunk.

Hit Man is streaming on Netflix now.

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