English, Film, Review, USA

Hit Man

Hit Man, co-written and directed by Richard Linklater, is a bright, piquant and fascinating mashup of film noir with screwball comedy. The film, now streaming on Netflix, is  based on a Texas Monthly article written by Skip Hollandsworth and follows Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), a philosophy and psychology professor, who doubles up as an undercover cop at the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) while pretending to be a gun-for-hire. Things take a wild turn when during a sting operation, Gary falls for his damsel-in-distress client, Madison ‘Maddy’ Figueroa Masters  (Adria Arjona), and decides to help free her from a horrible marriage…

When one talks categorically of film noir, to say that the ‘frustrated-beta-male meets-damsel-in-distress-and-soon-indulges-in-crime’ trope is overused to the extent of it being outright boring, is an understatement. This, however, is exactly where Hit Man hits the bullseye. Linklater deftly and seamlessly weaves together two genres that are almost antithetical to one another – the light tone of a comedy and the dark and melancholic themes typical of a noir flick. The makers clearly draw inspiration from Hollywood noir classics such as Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) and Frank Tuttle’s This Gun For Hire (1942) without feeling the pressure of confining to the constraints of the Hays code. This works to Linklater’s advantage and allows him to give the film a certain sense of moral ambiguity. That said, a few moments exist where certain dialogues and casting choices seem far too ‘woke’ and although not inexpedient, they do have a touch of the cringeworthy.

Due to Hit Man’s satirical treatment, Linklater grabs the opportunity to hint at the sheer frivolousness of the concept of American consumerism, where the general mentality is that everything can be bought or sold, including another person’s life. Light is also shed on the amusing nature of each individual’s distinct conception of the mind-body-identity nexus and how preconceived notions and biases play a huge role in the decision making processes – be it in selecting a partner, making friends or buying material objects. These commentaries are manifested effectively through character interactions and the arcs of the characters themselves.

Gary Johnson is your average nobody – someone who merrily lives his middle- class isolated life and draws little attention to himself. What makes his character fascinating is that his personality and behaviour is inextricably linked to and defined by his own assessment of self, which may or may not be true as he creates fake identities specifically designed as per his client’s conception of their ideal hit man. Common for women in patriarchal societies to be heavily restricted by their spouses and families, it is understandable when feelings of indignation build deep within however cheerful things may seem at face value. When these people are given the right kind of emotional support (as Gary gives Maddy) that empowers and frees them, they soon realise that only they have the power to change their own circumstances and as a result, make life altering decisions. Linklater takes this to a near hyperbolic, sinister level by giving Maddy a characterization that is highly reminiscent of Barbara Stanwyck’s ruthless femme fatale from Double Indemnity. The most deceptive character in the film is undoubtedly Jasper (Austin Amelio), a suspended undercover cop of the NOPD, who initially appears to be salty and condescending. He drives his own agenda forward as he wants to take his old job back from Gary. And as the plot unfolds, Jasper’s arc more than justifies itself in a beguiling fashion.

Barring a few instances that lay it on a mite too thick, uninhibited and compelling performances, and well planned, polished writing are what make Hit Man an enthralling watch. Moments of true-to-life silence in conversations between characters and twists nearing the climax in particular are the pièce de résistance, with the overall flow and pace of the linear narrative being brisk and agile. The editing grammar, understated yet masterful, shifts as the plot oscillates between comedic and dramatic zones, while the cinematography is elaborate yet not in a way that is disturbingly in-your-face. The production design and color palettes employed are in harmony with the world the narrative takes place in. Special mention to the involute sound design and moderated background score with the score being strongly inspired from Hollywood’s golden era yet infused with a modern touch that elevates the film’s overall storytelling quality.

Filmmakers are already walking on a tightrope when dealing with black comedies, as there is a very fine line between what works and that which falls flat. But when looked at with a playful, alluring and mysterious lens as done in Hit Man, one can rest assured that the entire endeavor was time well spent, for the makers and viewer alike.


English, Comedy, Thriller, Romance, Color

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  1. Very well written analysis. You definitely know a great deal about movies and film making. I have read a lot of your earlier reviews and well and always enjoy them.

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