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HitMan is the kind of movie that would have made money in the mid-2000s. Richard Linklater’s latest is a quirky, funny romantic comedy with mega-performances from Glen Powell and Adria Arjona, and a throwback to a Hollywood that was far from perfect but at least functional: a Hollywood that made adult films, that knew how to design vehicles for its emerging talent, that wasn’t deathly afraid of sex. At this point, it’s no surprise that the hesitation of pathologically risk-averse film distributors led to HitMan Although the film was bought by Netflix and only half-heartedly released in theaters, it is disappointing to see another crowd-pleaser denied the chance to wow audiences – especially since it features perhaps the best scene of the year.

(Warning: (Warning, spoilers.)

That is a bold statement, especially in a year that has already Dune 2‘s Sandworm Ride, FuriousThe heart of the war equipment and challenger End in Sicko mode. But if you see this scene in context, you can’t deny that it belongs in the discussion: With an absurd showstopper, Linklater, Powell and Arjona cleverly combine HitManThe themes of achievement, identity and the power of love to make you the best possible version of yourself.

HitMan is about Gary Johnson (Powell), a dim-witted psychology professor in New Orleans who supplements his income by doing technical work for undercover operations. The goal is to get the perpetrator who instigated the murder to incriminate himself to a “hitman” who is really just a cop with a listening device. (The screenplay, co-written by Linklater and Powell and based very loosely on an article by Skip Hollandsworth, pokes fun at the ridiculous idea that someone would risk a life in prison to give his jealous wife a few thousand dollars.) When the usual cop for the job is suspended, Gary is called upon to be a decoy killer and finds himself like a fish out of water. He soon adopts personas reminiscent of Patrick Bateman, Tilda Swinton and Dog the Bounty Hunter, wearing prosthetics and makeup to deceive his victims.

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell in a bathtub in “Hit Man”Adria Arjona and Glen Powell in a bathtub in “Hit Man”

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell

Netflix

But things get complicated when he meets Maddy (Arjona), a beautiful young woman trying to get rid of her abusive husband. As “Ron,” the sun-kissed hitman Maddy has her eye on for the job, Gary goes off script and advises her to take the money and get out rather than throw away her future. So begins a torrid, passionate love affair between Maddy and the man she believes is a hitman, with the line between Gary and Ron becoming increasingly blurred as he leads a double life.

“Hit Man” deserves to be in theaters. Netflix should be ashamed.

This arrangement obviously can’t last forever, and it doesn’t. When Maddy’s estranged (but not divorced) husband Ray tries to hire Gary, Ron warns Maddy that her life may be in danger, and she takes matters into her own hands. Soon after, Ray’s body is found with a gunshot through the heart, and Maddy confesses to Ron that she’s to blame. In return, Gary admits to the fraud, and Maddy kicks him out of her house. To make matters worse, the police have their sights set on Maddy because of her past with Ray, not to mention the million-dollar life insurance policy she took out on him. Unaware that Gary has revealed his true identity to Maddy, they send him back to her house to try to lure her into a trap as Ron, and he must choose between incriminating himself or the woman he loves. So what does he do?

He knocks on her door as Ron and says they need to talk while holding up his phone. The notes app says, “The police are listening. Follow my lead. We’re on the same team.”

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell are close in “Hit Man”Adria Arjona and Glen Powell are close in “Hit Man”

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell

Netflix

What follows is a brilliant comic scene in which Gary wordlessly orders Maddy to exonerate the two while they perform a little radio play for the cops listening in the van outside. Through a combination of his notes app and hand gestures, Gary covers every possible angle to throw the police off Maddy’s trail: she’s heard that Ray’s death was the result of a drug deal gone wrong, the man who pulled a gun on him during a late-night altercation outside a club called Virgo (in reality Gary/Ron) was just a one-night stand, and the life insurance policy was the work of Ray’s family, not hers. Eventually, urging her not to hold back until the “grand finale,” they stage a big brawl in which Maddy throws him out of her house. The two leave the meeting with their names cleared—and in love with each other again.

What makes the scene special is not just its cleverness, although it is clever: with a few low-tech tricks, it could have been played by Cary Grant and Claudette Colbert in a 1940s screwball adventure. And it is not just special for its humor, either, although it is undeniably funny; my favorite moment is when Maddy “Crap!” when Gary’s notes app tells her that the police know about Ray’s life insurance policy. What’s special about this is how Maddy falls in love with Gary again and begins to realize that the quick wit and determination he showed as Ron were real.

Glen Powell is hilarious in Hit Man. But is it copaganda?

From the beginning, Gary/Ron and Maddy’s relationship is marked by a certain playfulness, expressed in ice cream dates and sexual role-playing as flight attendants. This not only makes for lovely romantic comedy and passionate, intimate chemistry, but also furthers the film’s themes of identity: Ron gives Gary permission to explore sides of himself that have never seen the light of day, and Maddy is finally free to be herself now that she’s no longer under the thumb of her tyrannical husband.

With Maddy, Gary can pick up his lover and make love to her on her kitchen island; with Gary, Maddy feels comfortable wearing her hair the way she wants. As they confess and argue, the audience worries about the stakes of the plot, but it also worries that these characters no longer have the outlets that gave them emotional fulfillment. That’s why it’s so nice to see Maddy, initially surprised by Gary’s sudden visit, get back on his wavelength as the meeting progresses.

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell sit together in a bar in “Hit Man”Adria Arjona and Glen Powell sit together in a bar in “Hit Man”

Hitman

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell

Netflix

She’s hesitant at first, reading wooden lines and stuttering like a novice at an improv show, but she soon gets into the swing of things. When Gary/Ron chides her for hooking up with a “random stranger she just met,” she responds with a playfully indignant “Hey, fuck off!” When she adds that the stranger was “a damn good dancer,” we see a lovestruck smile cross Gary’s face. The two are reunited and perform a dance just as intimate as the one they shared at Virgo.

The crux of the scene is a small exchange that lasts maybe a few seconds. Gary, as Ron, growls, “You don’t know what I’m capable of.” Unbeknownst to the overhearing police, Gary rolls his eyes and Maddy stifles her laughter. By now, both know exactly what Gary is (and isn’t) capable of, but right now it doesn’t matter if he’s Gary or Ron. What’s important is that they work together and enjoy how sharp and capable they become in each other’s company. In short, they enjoy the fact that they’re in cahoots – and as Ezra Koenig once said, “Real cahoots will change (your) life.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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