Movie Review: “Hit Man” – A Sunlit Neo-Noir Tale of Deception and Desire

Oscar-nominated director Richard Linklater’s latest film, “Hit Man,” ventures into the sunlit realms of neo-noir, offering a fascinating blend of comedy, drama, and moral ambiguity. Starring Glen Powell as the strait-laced professor Gary Johnson, the film unravels an intricate tale of identity, deception, and unexpected romance.

Gary Johnson, a seemingly ordinary professor, leads a double life as a fake hitman for the New Orleans Police Department. His unique ability to slip into various guises and personalities makes him exceptionally skilled at luring in individuals looking to eliminate their enemies. However, Gary’s moral compass begins to waver when he encounters Madison, played by the enchanting Adria Arjona. Madison, a potential client with a mysterious allure, quickly becomes enamored with one of Gary’s alter egos — the dangerously seductive Ron.

As Madison and Ron embark on a steamy affair, the boundaries between reality and pretense blur, setting off a chain reaction of play-acting, deception, and ever-escalating stakes. The narrative, co-written by Linklater and Powell, draws inspiration from an unbelievable true story, grounding the film’s fantastical elements in a palpable sense of reality.

“Hit Man” is as much a character study as it is a neo-noir thriller. Powell’s performance as Gary/Ron is a masterclass in duality, effortlessly switching between the earnest professor and the charismatic hitman. Arjona’s portrayal of Madison adds depth to the femme fatale archetype, making her both a figure of desire and a catalyst for Gary’s internal conflict.

The supporting cast, including Austin Amelio as Jasper, Retta as Claudette, and Sanjay Rao as Phil, contributes significantly to the film’s rich tapestry of characters. Each interaction propels Gary further into a web of deceit, forcing him to confront the ethical boundaries he once held dear.

Visually, “Hit Man” is a treat. Director of Photography Shane F. Kelly captures the vibrant and often contrasting moods of New Orleans, shifting seamlessly from the bright, bustling streets to the shadowy corners where secrets thrive. Production Designer Bruce Curtis and Costume Designer Juliana Hoffpauir work in tandem to create a world that feels lived-in and authentic, while the music by Graham Reynolds, with supervision by Randall Poster and Meghan Currier, underscores the film’s tonal shifts with precision.

Linklater’s direction shines through in his ability to balance the film’s comedic elements with its darker themes. The script deftly navigates the existential questions of identity and morality, wrapped in a plot that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. The editing by Sandra Adair ensures a tight narrative flow, maintaining suspense and engagement throughout the film’s 1 hour and 55 minutes runtime.

“Hit Man” is not just a story about a man leading a double life; it’s a cleverly existential comedy that delves into the complexities of human nature and the masks we wear. The film’s exploration of identity, enhanced by stellar performances and meticulous direction, makes it a standout addition to Linklater’s illustrious filmography.

In select theaters on May 24, 2024, and streaming on Netflix from June 7, 2024, “Hit Man” is a must-watch for fans of neo-noir, character-driven narratives, and anyone who appreciates a good story about the multifaceted nature of human identity.