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Don’t miss one of Netflix’s best comedies this year. Here’s why you should watch it now

A woman looks at a man in Hit Man.

Netflix is typically thought of as the home for out-there shows like Stranger Things or fantasy epics like Damsel. But the popular streamer also produces a steady stream of comedies that linger in the memory. 2022’s Glass Onion is one of the highlights of Netflix’s recent comedy output, and just two weeks ago, it was joined by another comedy that dominated the most popular movies on Netflix chart and won over critics as well.

A triumphant return to the world of out-and-out comedy for writer/director Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Before Sunrise), the new Netflix film Hit Man is one of the best movies of the year so far and a treat not to be missed. Here are just a couple of reasons why you shouldn’t miss out on what will soon to be a classic everyone keeps watching over and over again.

A true story and an A-list writer/star

Glen Powell in Hit Man.

In 2001, an article for Texas Monthly told the true story of Gary Johnson, a contractor for the Houston Police Department who for decades helped cops arrest those looking to hire a hit man to rub out someone. Toting a series of outlandish disguises and false names, Johnson, wearing a wire, posed as the hit man in question and enticed his marks to incriminate themselves, while the cops waited around the corner to swoop in. A psychology professor at a local community college by day, Johnson was singularly dedicated to his unique performances, and Texas Monthly referred to him as the “Laurence Olivier of the field.”

Linklater has taken this irresistible story and transposed it, highly fictionalized, to the New Orleans of today. His co-writer and star is the ubiquitous actor of the moment, Glen Powell, whose performances in Top Gun: Maverick and Anyone but You have catapulted him to worldwide stardom and whose Twisters promises to be one of the blockbusters of the summer.

With this whip-smart film, bearing the hallmarks of classic screwball and undercover cop thrillers in equal measure, Powell proves himself the latest Hollywood heartthrob to move seamlessly to a behind-the-camera role, every bit as impressive in his transition as Bradley Cooper and Olivia Wilde.

Want hot leads and great chemistry? Then Hit Man is for you

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell in Hit Man.

The film goes down smooth, wasting no time in the execution as it begins with a seamless sequence of hit man stings, with Powell dressed in a series of utterly ridiculous costumes, including the ankle-length leather duster of an Eastern European contract killer, the bandanna and muscle shirt of a MAGA gun nut, and the swept-back hair and shades of a wannabe Tom Cruise-as-Jack Reacher.

With the entry of Adria Arjona (of the TV series Good Omens and Irma Vep), one of our most promising young actresses, as an abused wife looking to off her husband, the film moves briskly into sexually frank, dynamically dialogue-driven romance. Powell, as it turns out, is a distinctly capable screenwriter — for Linklater, of course, this goes without saying.

The highlight of the movie is a delicious rapid-fire exchange between Powell and Arjona as he attempts to keep her character from incriminating herself while being recorded by police. The sequence bears all the hallmarks of conflicting impulses and subtextual double meanings that made the screenplays of Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges great. At the screening I attended, the scene’s conclusion was greeted by a roar of applause — and rightly so.

Purposefully sexy

A man and a woman soak in a bathtub in Hit Man.

The film is tightly focused and rarely widens its frame beyond Powell and Arjona — minor comic turns by Retta and Sanjay Roy, as Powell’s New Orleans PD handlers, notwithstanding. But the viewing experience is hardly lessened for it. The film’s succession of extended sex sequences has been a frequent press junket topic of conversation for the film’s conspicuously telegenic stars (Powell’s Anyone but You promotional tour taught him well in how to capitalize on this particular area).

If it is true that Hit Man is to some degree a reaction to Gen Z filmgoers’ bizarre aversion to sex scenes, there’s no doubt it succeeds brazenly. But this interpretation would seem to belittle the very real chemistry between Powell’s Gary Johnson and Arjona’s Maddy Masters. That chemistry is not merely an addendum to the film’s comic capers but ties in very immediately with them. It’s a movie in which sex is not reductively titillating but a necessary superstructure for the story. Eroticism is not its dangled bait but its bread and butter.

It’s helmed by one of America’s greatest directors

Adria Arjona, Richard Linklater, and Glen Powell on the set of Hit Man.

Linklater has never been a primarily visual filmmaker — in hangout pictures like Dazed and Confused, the Before trilogy, and the vastly underrated Everybody Wants Some!! (also co-starring Powell and is Linklater’s last original comedy), he’s been happy to allow the camera to roll and see where the journey takes him. Hit Man is a more structured affair, dependent more on quick, tightly controlled turns than on shaggy-dog journeys of discovery.

But it’s the wild diversity of the director’s filmography that makes him all the more of a wonder in our contemporary world of typecast filmmakers, and the breezy, ground-level Hit Man offers a fresh opportunity to appreciate him. That his next great endeavor is a film version of Sondheim’s classic musical Merrily We Roll Along, to be filmed over the course of 20 years, should be no surprise given his previous multi-decade projects like the aforementioned Before films and Boyhood. But how lucky we are that Linklater manages to turn out genuine gems like Hit Man while simultaneously taking on what seem from the outside to be herculean films.

What this film means for Glen Powell’s career

A man talk on his phone in Hit Man.

As for Powell, his star continues to rise even as he begins to run the very real risk of becoming overexposed. (One remembers with heightened concern the former ubiquity of his Top Gun: Maverick co-star in the years after Whiplash, before Miles Teller vanished from the screen for half a decade when audiences tired of his smarmy unlikely-golden-boy act.)  Everybody Wants Some!! (that masterful ’80s college sports film which functioned as a follow-up to Dazed and Confused) and Hit Man constitute Powell’s best performances, far and away, amid a tidal wave of dreck in his filmography including but certainly not limited to The Expendables 3, Sex Ed, and Ride Along 2.

And it seems unlikely that Twisters (itself a sequel to a film no one particularly liked at the time of its release) will find a place in the canon. But Powell’s continued association with Linklater, his fellow Texan, assures us of the exhilarating fact that one of our newest and most newly bankable stars has a creative home with a filmmaker who can challenge him, use him to his best advantage, and remind him that the high-quality mid-budget movie is not a thing of the past — it just takes looking for.

Hit Man is streaming on Netflix.

James Feinberg
James Feinberg is a writer and journalist who has written for the Broadway Journal and NBC's The Blacklist.
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