‘Hit Man’ Has the Best Movie Scene of the Year (So Far) (2024)

Hit Man is the kind of movie that would have made bank in the mid-’00s. A twisty, funny rom-com with megawatt performances from Glen Powell and Adria Arjona, Richard Linklater’s latest is a throwback to a Hollywood that, while far from perfect, was at least functional: a Hollywood that made films for adults, that knew how to fashion vehicles for its rising talent, that wasn’t deathly afraid of sex. At this point, it’s no surprise that hesitation from pathologically risk-averse film distributors led to Hit Man being snapped up by Netflix and given a half-hearted theatrical release, but it’s disappointing to see yet another crowd-pleaser denied the chance to please crowds—especially when it boasts what might be the best scene of the year.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)

That’s a bold claim to make, especially in a year that already has Dune 2’s sand worm ride, Furiosa’s war rig centerpiece, and Challengers sicko-mode ending. But when you see this scene in context, it’s impossible to deny that it belongs in the conversation: with one farcical showstopper, Linklater, Powell, and Arjona neatly tie together Hit Man’s themes of performance, identity, and the power of love to make you the best possible version of yourself.

Hit Man is about Gary Johnson (Powell), a milquetoast psych professor in New Orleans who supplements his income by doing tech work for sting operations. The goal is to get the murder-soliciting perp to incriminate themselves to a “hired killer” who’s really just a cop wearing a wire. (The screenplay, co-written by Linklater and Powell and very loosely based on an article by Skip Hollandsworth, pokes fun at the ridiculous idea that someone would risk life in prison for the sake of a jealous spouse with a few thousand dollars.) When the usual cop for the job is suspended, Gary is pressed into duty as the decoy hit man, and takes to it like a duck to water. Soon enough, he’s adopting personas reminiscent of Patrick Bateman, Tilda Swinton, and Dog the Bounty Hunter, wearing prosthetics and makeup in order to fool his marks.

‘Hit Man’ Has the Best Movie Scene of the Year (So Far) (1)

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But matters are complicated when he meets Maddy (Arjona), a beautiful young woman trying to get rid of her abusive husband. As “Ron”, the sunglasses-clad hit man Maddy eyes for the job, Gary goes off-script and advises her to take the money and run instead of throwing away her future. Thus begins a steamy, passionate love affair between Maddy and the man she believes to be an assassin, with the line separating Gary and Ron growing ever more blurry as he maintains a double life.

    This arrangement clearly 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 enough, Ray’s body is found shot through the heart, and Maddy confesses to Ron that she’s to blame. In turn, Gary admits to the deception, and Maddy kicks him out of her house. To make matters worse, the police have Maddy in their sights due to her history with Ray, not to mention the million-dollar life insurance policy she took out on him. Not knowing that Gary told Maddy his true identity, they send him back over to her house to try and entrap her as Ron, and he is forced to choose between incriminating himself and incriminating the woman he loves. So what does he do?

    He knocks at her door as Ron, saying they have to talk, holding up his phone. Written in the Notes app: “Police are listening. Follow my lead. We’re on the same team.”

    ‘Hit Man’ Has the Best Movie Scene of the Year (So Far) (2)

    Netflix

    What follows is an ingenious comic set piece where Gary wordlessly directs Maddy into exonerating the two of them as they put on a mini 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 heard Ray’s death was a drug deal gone wrong, the man who pulled a gun on him during a late-night confrontation outside a club called the Virgo (in actuality Gary/Ron) was just a one-night stand, and the life insurance policy was the doing of Ray’s family, not her. Finally, urging her not to hold back for the “big finale,” they stage a big fight where Maddy kicks him out of her house. The two walk away from the meeting with their names cleared—and back in love with each other.

    What makes the scene special isn’t just its cleverness, although it is clever: With a few low-tech tweaks, it could have been acted by Cary Grant and Claudette Colbert in a screwball caper from the 1940s. Nor is it special just because of its humor, although it is undeniably funny; my favorite moment is Maddy mouthing “f*ck!” when Gary’s Notes app tells her the cops know about Ray’s life insurance policy. What makes it special is the way Maddy falls for Gary all over again, gradually realizing that the quick thinking and decisiveness he showed as Ron was the genuine article.

      From the start, Gary/Ron and Maddy’s relationship is marked by a certain playfulness, one that manifests through ice cream dates and flight attendant sexual roleplay. This not only makes for delightful rom-com banter and steamy, intimate chemistry, it 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, out from under her tyrannical husband’s thumb, is finally free to be her own person.

      With Maddy, Gary can pick his lover up and make love to her on her kitchen island; with Gary, Maddy feels comfortable wearing her hair the way she likes. When they make their confessions and have a falling-out, the audience worries about the concrete stakes of the plot, but they also worry that these characters may no longer have the outlets that gave them emotional fulfillment. Which is why it’s such a joy to see Maddy, initially caught off-guard by Gary’s sudden visit, get back on his wavelength as the meeting continues.

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      Hitman

      Netflix

      At first she’s hesitant, giving wooden line readings and stuttering like a novice at an improv show, but soon enough she gets in the spirit of things. When Gary/Ron chides her for hooking up with a “random stranger [she] just met”, she responds with a playfully indignant “Hey, f*ck off!” When she adds that the stranger was “a damn good dancer,” we see a lovestruck smile flicker across Gary’s face. The two of them are brought together again, performing a dance every bit as intimate as the one they shared at Virgo.

      The fulcrum of the scene is a little exchange that lasts maybe a couple seconds. Gary, as Ron, growls, “You don’t know what I’m capable of;” unseen by the police listening in, Gary rolls his eyes and Maddy stifles her laughter. By now, both of them know full well what Gary is (and isn’t) capable of, but right now it doesn’t matter whether he’s Gary or Ron. What matters is that they’re working together, reveling in how sharp and capable they become in each other’s company. In short, they’re relishing the fact that they’re in cahoots—and as Ezra Koenig once said, “real cahoots will change [your] life”.

      ‘Hit Man’ Has the Best Movie Scene of the Year (So Far) (2024)

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