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TIFF Review: ‘Hit Man’ is An Incredibly Charming Gem From Richard Linklater and Glen Powell

I can’t get enough of a film just washing over you with fun and joy. Especially at the Toronto International Film Festival, it’s hard to be fully surprised by something like this. And yet, here we are with Hit Man, a phenomenally entertaining movie that has you smiling for its entire running length. Nothing else at TIFF has tickled me as much as this flick, which is an absolute delight from start to finish.

Hit Man is smarter than it seems on paper, while still being very much a crowd-pleasing endeavor. Not only is it playing around with genre, philosophy gets its time as well. Everything works, which you don’t say very often. For nearly two hours, you just have a warm fuzzy feeling of watching a great new film.

Gary Johnson (Glen Powell) is a mildly nerdy college professor in New Orleans. He lives a quiet life, alone with his cats, except for a part time job of his. You see, Gary works for the police department, helping to record undercover sting operations. When Jasper (Austin Amelio), the officer meant to go undercover that day is suspended, Gary gets tapped to do the job. Lo and behold, he takes to it well, embracing becoming someone new. So, he keeps at it, helping the cops but also finding a confidence that he never knew he had.

When Gary meets Madison (Adria Arjona), they immediately click. Now, she’s met him to hire “Ron” to kill her abusive husband. His persona engages her, while he’s smitten. In short order, he’s talked her out of hiring him, while also beginning a relationship. Of course, he’ll eventually have to reckon with what he’s doing, but watching him both fall in love and create all of these characters is a spectacular joy.

Glen Powell gives a true star-making performance here. Not only that, he makes it look easy. Charming and charismatic, Powell lights up the screen. He’s been doing that for years now, but this is the purest example yet of his A-list talent. If he’s not one of the most in demand actors in Hollywood after this, someone isn’t paying attention. He has incredible chemistry with Adria Arjona, who has her own compelling screen presence. Together, they’re one of the sexiest and most enjoyable screen couples of 2023. The supporting cast, besides the aforementioned Austin Amelio, also includes Molly Bernard, Retta, and more, but Powell is truly the star.

Richard Linklater is having as much fun as ever directing this picture. Co-writing with Powell, they’re in an incredible comfort zone that rubs off on the audience. Liberally adapting the article by Skip Hollandsworth (who also inspired Bernie for Linklater), the pair make all the right moves. The connection they made on Everybody Wants Some, as well as Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood, shines through in every frame. When it’s funny, it’s very funny. When it’s sexy, it’s pretty sexy. Linklater is in full control of the material, with Powell crafting a character you’ll never want to stop spending time with.

Hit Man is my favorite film at TIFF this year. It just works, from the first shot to the last. When you see this movie, you’ll likely agree that this is one of Linklater’s best flicks. Plus, you’ll almost certainly also feel that Powell is about to be a huge star. Hit Man, once it gets acquired, is going to be more than a festival darling. It’s just a tremendously appealing work, overall.

SCORE: ★★★1/2


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Written by Joey Magidson

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