Review by Sean Boelman
Richard Linklater’s latest film Hit Man debuted earlier this month at the Venice Film Festival to raves, and while it’s enjoyable enough, it feels rather slight. A crowd-pleaser that never challenges the audience in any way, the movie lacks much of an identity beyond vague quirkiness.
The film follows a professor who, on the side, works with the CIA to pose as a hit man, capturing those who hope to order a murder. It’s an interesting concept (partially inspired by a true story) that one would hope Linklater would use in a Bernie-esque dark comedy way. Unfortunately, Hit Man is a bit too candy-coated for its own good.
What is surprising about the movie is that, for most of its runtime, it’s a relatively standard romantic comedy. It shares much more in common with School of Rock or Where’d You Go, Bernadette than Before Midnight or Boyhood. That’s not to say Linklater isn’t also good at directing comedy, but this one lacks the spark it needed to fully work.
That being said, in the final act of the film — with one expertly sharp scene kicking it off in particular — it finally channels the energy that viewers will have been hoping for from the beginning. Had the movie been able to achieve and keep this momentum early on, it would have been one of the most charming movies of the year.
The film is certainly made better by an extraordinary performance from Glenn Powell, who previously worked with Linklater as one of the members of the ensemble in Everybody Wants Some!! He exudes an effortless charm in the role, finding the right balance between confidence and lovable goofiness.
Looking at the supporting cast, everyone pales in comparison to Powell. Adria Arjona has decent chemistry with the leading man, but otherwise isn’t able to hold her own against the more charismatic performer. Retta gets a few funny moments as the sidekick to Powell’s agent, but is just there to get the laugh.
Visually, the movie is surprisingly not as good as one would hope. Obviously, it’s competent considering Linklater’s experience, but it’s disappointingly vanilla as Linklater adheres to the typical style of the romantic comedy genre. The only thing about the film that feels stylistically inspired are some of the needle drops, which give it a nice tone.
Hit Man is an amusing little movie, but its appeal stops there. Apart from a strong performance by Glenn Powell, there’s really nothing about this film that’s overly special above your average romantic comedy with a unique premise, and that’s disappointing considering the talent involved.
Hit Man screened at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, which ran September 7-17 in Toronto, Canada.