Hit Man is a Reminder That There’s Nothing Sexier Than Star Power

The Richard Linklater crowdpleaser deserved a theatrical release, but it can still seduce on Netflix.

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell in Hit Man
Inverse Reviews

Streaming platforms don’t have to be the enemy. Some of the greatest surprises of the modern era — from Rebecca Hall’s Passing to Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey — have been championed by hosts like Netflix or Hulu. A handful of high-risk films and shows have even been saved by the odd streamer: Netflix in particular has kept shows like Warrior or Scavengers Reign from fading into total obscurity.

But problems arise when streamers try to cut out the middle man, and deny a film’s clear theatrical appeal. Countless Netflix films could have cleaned up on the big screen, from crowdpleasers like Glass Onion to war epics like All Quiet on the Western Front. It gets worse with a film like Hit Man, which Netflix scooped up shortly after an acclaimed premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2023. In that regard, streamers are ostensibly the bad guy — but don’t let Netflix’s bad habits keep you from catching one of the best films of the year.

Based on a “somewhat true story,” Hit Man follows the madcap misadventures of a college professor who moonlights as a fake assassin. Glen Powell stars as our mild-mannered, unlikely hero, playing slightly against type as Gary Johnson. Alongside his stint as a psychology teacher, Gary occasionally assists the New Orleans Police Department as an investigator behind-the-scenes. That all changes when he’s forced to go undercover as a hitman — and effortlessly slip into a classic tough-guy persona — to catch a criminal.

Naturally, Gary quickly realizes that he’s pretty good at playing a charismatic baddie. This might require some suspension of disbelief, especially for those who recognize glimmers of Hangman, Powell’s smarmy anti-hero from Top Gun: Maverick, in Gary’s first impromptu performance. But Hit Man is best enjoyed as more of a meta commentary on Powell’s nascent movie stardom, and the film’s breezy direction (courtesy of indie legend Richard Linklater) is sure to switch things up before the gag grows stale.

If nothing else, Hit Man serves as an unlikely reminder of Powell’s movie star potential.


Powell flits between one character archetype after the next, delivering plenty of laughs, and showcasing plenty of range, as he goes. His dedicated performance is more than enough to distract from the film’s amateurish qualities. Its central story has all the friction of the crime dramedies that once dominated cable TV; ditto for its set design and cinematography.

Hit Man feels a lot like Good Girls, but for boys: it’s chock-full of meditations on identity and ego, and plays things relatively safe on the action-front. What it lacks in sophistication or subtlety, though, is more than recouped with a surprisingly steamy romance.

While Gary coaches his students on the importance of self-determination, he finds himself on his own journey of self-denial. His existential crisis is further complicated with the introduction of a new client, the desperate wife of an abusive mogul. Madison (Andor’s Adria Arjona) asks Gary to kill her husband, and though her motive is more or less justified, she’s just one of many potential clients that could face indefinite jail time if Gary does his job right.

Of course, it’s impossible not to root for Madison regardless. It helps that Arjona is one of the most gorgeous, charismatic actors of her generation — two virtues that inform her crazy chemistry with Powell — but she brings effortless depth to Madison wherever possible. She’s not quite a femme fatale; not quite a damsel. Just as Powell is channeling the hunks of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Arjona puts a modern spin on the archetypes perfected by Lauren Bacall and, more recently, Halle Berry.

Arjona and Powell have chemistry for days, which only makes this crime thriller more enthralling.


Even the most casual conversation with Powell’s Gary (who disguises himself as the darkly charming “Ron” on dates with Madison) feels too intimate for words. Hit Man also brings back the steamy love scenes that once belonged to a bygone era. Its romance adds some much-needed layers to its meditations on performance and projection; it also potentially sets this romance up for what could be a rude awakening.

Yes, Hit Man is impossibly sexy — but any sensible person would be waiting for the other shoe to drop. No relationship founded on lies can really last, and the more Gary slips in and out of his alter ego, the more the lines begin to blur between Ron and his true self. Fortunately, Hit Man isn’t satisfied with a by-the-books conclusion. Sure, its twists can err on the predictable side (trust Madison’s ex to rear his head, along with a few other narrative wrinkles), but the film is nothing if not a crowdpleaser. It’s a shame that most won’t be able to experience its best moments with a big audience, but hey, Hit Man’s twists and turns will satisfy no matter how you catch the film.

Hit Man is streaming on Netflix now.

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