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Hit Man

“The eternal mystery of human consciousness and behavior.” Gary Johnson (Glen Powell)

Having just enjoyed a summer stroll through an arts festival, I settled for another breezy summer evening with Glen Powell as a nerdy and hot professor and hitman, thanks to the Netflix trick of playing its crime soft and its romance, well, plainly romantic.

Promising some truth in the telling, Hitman is based on a feature in Texas Monthly about Gary Johnson, a college philosophy teacher (see the above quote about his interest) who also moonlights with the local police as an ersatz hitman, nailing scores of bad apples looking to hire an assassin usually for reasons of love gone badly. Gary, wearing multiple disguises for his wildly different clients, can further enhance his lectures on the self: “What if your self is a construct?” he asks his students.

Gary remains an operative who never kills anyone until he meets comely client, Maddy (Adria Arjona), and is drawn into a caper as Ron and lover, possibly becoming at least an accomplice to murder. Meanwhile, director Richard Linklater, who knows a thing or two about actors as lovers, weaves the romance with college lectures on identity and psychological self-styling, common threads in our social-media landscape. Our ability to create our own persona on Facebook or Snapchat, for example, is not unlike his profession, but not quite as dangerous, mostly.

You don’t need to know Nietzsche to believe that a mild-mannered professor could play a hit man (a student exclaims, “When did our teacher get hot?”) or that anyone could construct a personality with the help of the Internet. The film becomes more than an amusing thriller as identities play a key role in furthering a promising romance or solving a crime that has murder as a centerpiece.

Although more than once it’s claimed there are no hitmen now or in history, Hit Man goes a long way in convincing us that they could be real. In more than one extended dialogue, Gary/Ron explains the complexity and allure of switching identities.

Hit Man has its own double identity—cool summer caper and dangerous romance, both threatened by electronic surveillance and the human capability of shifting its persona throughout life. Although the subject of identity crafting involving the id, the ego, and the superego can’t be adequately discussed in a brief TV melodrama, Hit Man does give one pause. And a brisk summer breeze.

 Hit Man

Director: Richard Linklater (Boyhood))

Screenplay: Linklater, Glen Powell, from Skip Hollandsworth article

Cast: Glen Powell ( The Dark Knight Rises, Top Gun: Maverick), Adria Arjona (Morbius)

Run Time: 1h 55m

Rating: R

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take (recently listed by Feedspot as two of the ten best NPR Movie Podcasts) out of WCBE 90.5 FM, Columbus, Ohio. Contact him at

John DeSando