Richard Linklater’s “Hit Man” Hits the Mark in Venice
With the 80th Annual Venice Film Festival still going and the venerable Telluride Film Festival bowing this past Sunday, reviews for some of the fall’s most intriguing releases are starting to pour. Buzz, big acquisitions, and just a hint of good feelings, even hope, can be felt. Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos wowed with his twisty take on a female Frankenstein’s monster, Poor Things, starring a stellar Emma Stone. Ava DuVernay made history in Venice with Origin, her look at the life and work of Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Isabel Wilkerson, becoming the first Black woman director in competition in the festival’s 80-year history. David Fincher’s The Killer offered a lurid yet still surprisingly humorous look at the life of an assassin starting to question when everything went wrong. Bradley Cooper’s biopic Maestro, centered on the iconic composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) and his decades-long relationship with his wife, the actress and activist Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein (Carey Mulligan), has come in for enthusiastic reviews. The list goes on. And on. While things are very clearly in flux in the entertainment industry with the dual WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, this deluge of quality films from passionate filmmakers can make even the most pessimistic movie critic or fan imagine a brighter future.
This brings us to Richard Linklater, a writer/director who knows how to bring a good time, even when he’s dealing with characters a little less than morally sound and stories that dip into the queasier precincts of human behavior. Linklater’s latest, Hit Man, is very close to being the polar opposite of Fincher’s The Killer, with Linklater’s tale lifted from a true story and molded by the writer/director into something even better than true, something winning.
Hit Man centers on Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), a part-time teacher who works as a tech consultant for the New Orleans Police Department, helping them record sting operations. Without a lick of training, Gary’s asked by the NOPD at the last minute to go undercover and impersonate a contract killer. Gary takes the role and then, Gary takes to the role. He’s good at pretending to be a killer. Very good. Soon, Gary becomes the NOPD’s go-to guy when it comes to impersonating a man, in various guises, accents, and wardrobes (whatever the situation calls for), who will kill for money. The desk jockey becomes an undercover agent, a dream many a dweeb can relate to.
Linklater’s film is based on a 2001 Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth—the same journalist who inspired Linklater to write his 2011 film Bernie, starring Jack Black as a caretaker who turns into a killer. In Hit Man, Linklater has Powell, a standout in Top Gun: Maverick as the cocksure pilot Hangman, credibly playing a dorky guy who begins to live out his wildest fantasies without ever actually having to hurt anybody. Then, he meets Madison (Adria Arjona), a beautiful, bereft young woman who wants to off her abusive husband. Now Gary’s in a bind—he plays the kind of man who can help Madison, but he’s not that guy, right? He’s the guy who lures people like Madison into handcuffs, but what happens when he falls for one of his marks? What happens if he actually wants to commit the crime?
It’s a killer premise, and it’s surely a must-see in Linklater’s hands.
Here’s a quick glance at what some of the critics are saying:
‘Hit Man’ Review: Richard Linklater’s Sexy Comedy Makes a Star Out of Glen Powell https://t.co/zu68H5R02o
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) September 5, 2023
‘Hit Man’ Review: Glen Powell Teams With Richard Linklater For A (Sort Of) True Comedy Noir Thriller Romance That Hits The Target – Venice Film Festival https://t.co/q5yUXr9Ojz
— Deadline Hollywood (@DEADLINE) September 5, 2023
‘Hit Man’ Review: Richard Linklater’s Fun True-Life Lark About a Dweeb Who Goes Undercover as a Contract Killer https://t.co/zOHjtYtT2q
— Variety (@Variety) September 5, 2023
Richard Linklater’s ‘Hit Man’ is a cute, clever showcase for Glen Powell’s magnetic charm.
— Vanity Fair’s Awards Insider (@VFAwardsInsider) September 5, 2023
— Time Out Film (@TimeOutFilm) September 5, 2023
Hit Man review – Richard Linklater mixes philosophy and fun in true-crime caper https://t.co/aUbwfRhdYr
— Guardian culture (@guardianculture) September 5, 2023
‘Hit Man’ Venice Review: Richard Linklater turns the twisting true story of ‘fake assassin’ Gary Johnson into a funny, confident crowdpleaser says Fionnuala Halligan. #Venezia80 https://t.co/TndP8pP7aE
— Screen International (@Screendaily) September 5, 2023
Featured image: VENICE, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 05: Director Richard Linklater attends a photocall for “Hit Man” at the 80th Venice International Film Festival on September 05, 2023 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Victor Boyko/Getty Images)