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  • Writer's pictureAidan Fronza

Hit Man (2023)

It’s already a running gag that Richard Linklater’s extremely clever but never overly-serious screwball neo-noir/rom-com satire “should have been a hit, man.” So why wasn’t it? Linklater’s newest slice of life fell short of the cultural and financial expectations many had for the passion-project of such a seasoned aueter. That’s not to say his meta-commentary on self, identity, and the roles we play in life didn’t resonate with so many. It’s that those understandingly amused by this highly enjoyable piece of filmmaking either luckily attended a limited-release screening surrounded by a rapturous audience bonding over edge-of-your-seat narrative and a shared fawning over Glen Powell’s unwavering charisma… or watched it on Netflix. Unfortunately, like many others, I was forced to endure the latter in order to truly engage in the film’s communal discourse. This is an all too common outcome in today’s streaming-based and convenience-oriented media consumption environment. So while I most definitely liked this and was overjoyed that it was made, I also can’t ignore the creative fears I and many others have again being legitimized by how films like these are made, distributed, and most importantly, watched. Because remember - power over streaming is power over all.

Glen Powell as fake hitman Gary Johnson

However, let’s get the good news at the forefront. Linklater’s newest collaboration with many old friends also marks his most recent film with the devilishly handsome Glen Powell. The two previously synergized in Linklater’s 2016 comedy Everybody Wants Some!!, where Powell played a supporting role in an unsupervised college friend group. What’s different this time is that not only does Powell star in their latest installment, but he also co-wrote and produced the film with Linklater. Of which is inspired by the October 2001 Texas Monthly article of the same name as the film’s title written by Skip Hollandsworth about the real Gary Johnson (played by Powell in the film). According to the article, Johnson was the “most sought-after professional killer” in Houston, Texas while really working undercover for the police. And so with a story so unbelievable, it’s hard to not get its attraction to notable crowd-pleasers’ Linklater and Powell. And boy do the two really know how to please a crowd in this one.

Adria Arjona as Madison Masters (left) & Powell, again as Johnson (right)

Like always, Linklater’s direction is superb, being straightforward but never simple, and always allowing for the actors to positively shine. A true master in the feel-good genre (Dazed and Confused, The Before Trilogy, School of Rock, etc.) Linklater again manages to depict sensitive subjects, this time domestic abuse, feelings of worthlessness, and the disillusion of identity, with care and respect while also maintaining a hilarious comedic tone. Ultimately, he’s the type of person you want to see making movies.

Powell, again as Johnson

And who do you want to see him making them with? Glen Powell, Glen Powell, Glen Powell. Called our generation’s Cary Grant, Powell has made a name for himself as the next big leading man of Hollywood. Since starring in the groundbreaking Top Gun: Maverick, he’s been taking the film industry by storm, comparable even to that of the success of his former co-star and extraordinaire Tom Cruise. Fresh off that film, Powell starred alongside Sydney Sweeney in their cultural phenomenon that was the 2023 rom-com Anyone But You. Beyond the past, Powell stars as famous tornado wrangler Tyler Owens in the upcoming film Twisters, a sequel to 1996’s natural disaster thriller Twister, and will return in the sequel to Maverick as Lt. Jake ‘Hangman’ Seresin. In the present, Powell exudes charm at every corner as Gary Johnson, the aforementioned real-life fake hitman. It’s an understatement to say that he embodies this role, transforming himself into various alter-ego hitmen with the acting prowess of that of a shapeshifter. Once you get past the ridiculousness of ever finding Powell unattractive, his performance is legendary, playing the pitifulness of Gary and the sexiness of Ron (his suavest hitman identity and most similar to Powell’s real self) with the same intensity and depth.

Arjona, again as Masters (left) & Powell, again as Johnson (right)

But Powell’s only at his most sexiness when he’s onscreen with the beautiful and talented Adria Arjona. Arjona is an instant catch. Meet-cuting with Gary at a sting operation, their relationship goes to unpredictable heights. Still, these heights don’t seem oh so high given Powell and Arjuna’s radiating chemistry. Powell is a match to Arjona’s flame, and the two burn so bright you’ll want to rip your head off watching their god-sculpted bodies and irresistible charm intertwined in a relationship so outrageously insane. On her own, Arjuna is no less attention-grabbing than Powell, and despite holding the thread of the plot together, I found myself wanting more and more of her on-screen presence. Similar to Powell, she has a promising future in the industry, playing a supporting role in Zoë Kravitz’s upcoming directorial debut Blink Twice, and I really think both are invaluable to the future of Hollywood.

Powell (left), Richard Linklater (middle), Arjona (right)

I also want to shoutout members of the supporting cast Austin Amelio, Retta, and Sanjay Rao. The three are much welcomed additions to the story, with Amelio starring as Gary’s controversial fake-hitman predecessor Jasper, and Retta and Rao as Claudette and Phil, behind the scenes members of Gary’s guys-in-the-chair technical crew, ensuring his sting operations go smooth and sound. And so, Amelio’s chaotic disruptiveness combined with Rhett and Rao’s hilarious line deliveries add a whole new layer of entertainment to the film.

Austin Amelio as Jasper (left), Sanjay Rao as Phil (middle), Retta as Claudette (right)

And so, with all that being said, it breaks my heart to have to get into the sad fact that not nearly as many people are seeing, and much less appreciating, films like that of Linklater’s Hit Man. Media appropriation, and more specially film appropriation, is something that has been on my mind a lot recently. It’s gotten to the point where my Dad and I have had numerous conversations and debates over the likes of theater etiquette, streaming, and the overall perspectives people have on film (of which we get into more detail in our newest podcast episode, “Some Are Blockbusters”). Now, I’m no professional media analyst, and while I plan on pursuing a career in media, I haven’t even exactly reached college level yet in terms of actually being enrolled in a long-term film program or being consistently taught film academically. However, I don’t think any of that really matters when discussing the appreciation of art. Of course, artists will always have somewhat more of a platform to speak about art and how it’s interpreted (and make no mistake, A.I. will never ever be considered art, at least by me). But ultimately, it’s the audience reaction that matters most. And while that audience can most certainly be an artist’s self, more often than not, at least in the film industry, that audience is the public - more commonly referred to as the “general audience.” And to put it bluntly, the majority of the general audience has stopped caring. Like many corrupted studio executives, they’ve stopped caring about what’s made, how it’s made, who makes it, who it’s made for, etc. And the list goes on and on and on until suddenly, we’re at the point where art has become content, a means of making money for the creators and passing time for the consumers. And I’m not the first to say I get it. Sometimes you just want to turn your brain off, and simply have something on, whatever that may be. I do too. The dilemma is, such brainless consumption has ultimately become the norm. And to a certain degree, it makes sense. In the age of the Internet, the phrase “media saturation” is an understatement. Most people privileged enough to can consume what they want, where they want, and how they want with almost no apparent consequence. And to be fair, it’s not wrong to say that those are moderately good things. Obviously, such convenience means that there is more accessibility to art, culture, news, etc., which I think is mostly a wonderful thing. So… finally, the big question you’ve all been waiting for: Why does this all matter? And the more I think about it, I think the answer lies in how for most people, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t really matter to them what films they go to see in theaters or what movies/shows they choose to tell their friends about. Again, they just treat art as one thing and one thing only: content. But, though I think it’s glaringly obvious and what I struggle to explain to others, is that art is not created equal. Especially with the movies. Because while everyone has a story to tell, some stories resonate more with some than they do with others, and some are pure passion projects (like Hitman) while others are blatant cash grabs… And so I’m not just saying that movies are different (even though it stupidly feels like people sometimes forget that), I’m trying to say that art should be interpreted. It should be criticized. It should be hated. It should be loved. It should be learned from. Because all of that, even the worst of the worst reviews written about a movie you or I may adore, is better than simply not caring.

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