Sundance movie review: 'Hit Man' showcases Glen Powell's charm, range

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell star in "Hit Man." Photo courtesy of Netflix
1 of 5 | Adria Arjona and Glen Powell star in "Hit Man." Photo courtesy of Netflix

PARK CITY, Utah, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- Glen Powell has charmed in big hit movies, but Hit Man, which screened Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, shows his complete range.

Powell co-wrote and produced the comedy with director Richard Linklater, which also displays romance and tough guy intensity.


Gary Johnson (Glenn Powell) was a New Orleans school teacher who worked for the police on the side. That is a true story and the real Johnson died in 2022.

When New Orleans police officer Jasper (Austin Amelio) is suspended, Gary has to go undercover in his place. The sting is to catch people trying to hire a contract killer.

Gary wears a wire and the police arrest the suspects after they say they are hiring Gary to kill someone. Gary gets really into the part though. He researches the suspects and creates a different character to apply to each one.


Gary asserts that hit men don't exist in real life, but movies make people believe they do. So Gary has fun with accents and costumes to fulfill their expectations and Powell is funny as each character.

When Madison (Adria Arjona) asks him to kill her abusive husband, Gary lets her go before she incriminates herself. She texts him again once she's settled into a new life.

Madison and Gary start dating but he's still playing Ron, the tough guy hitman she first met. "Ron" has to keep his personal details private, under the ruse of keeping Madison out of his deadly work but really so she doesn't find out he's a total phony.

That's a pretty good twist on the rom-com cliche of falling in love with one big secret. That it's based on a true story makes it clever to adapt Johnson's work into this film genre.

Gary's act has to get bigger and bigger when he's not only playing the role of Ron, but also covering up his relationship with Madison from the police, who know she was one of their suspects.

Powell and Arjona have scorching chemistry. Their love scenes are hot with no nudity, but composing their bodies in passionate positions.


Since Gary acknowledges hit men are an invention of cinema, the film does plop him into a real hit man thriller. A murder puts Madison and Gary in danger with the added caveat that Gary is not a real hitman like the movie heroes who assassinate all the bad guys.

The murder, the film openly admits, was their invention. It works as a celebration of Johnson's myth.

The intrigue of Hit Man's story is as engrossing as regular hitman movies with twists and suspense, both that Gary will be found out and that he and Madison might die. The added element of Gary trying to keep his true identity a secret makes it a fun comedy too.

Netflix will release Hit Man this year.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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