The Many Faces of the Hit Man

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“Hit Man,” a new film directed by Richard Linklater, is not, in fact, about a hit man. The movie follows Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), a mild-mannered philosophy professor who assists law enforcement in sting operations by posing as a contract killer—and playing on the expectations stoked by Hollywood. On this episode of Critics at Large, Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss the history of the archetype, from the 1942 noir “This Gun for Hire” to Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” and the “John Wick” franchise, and explore why audiences have so enthusiastically embraced a figure that, contrary to the media’s depiction, is basically nonexistent in real life. “It’s a fantasy of what would happen if our rage was optimized, much like our sleep and our work day and our workouts,” Fry says. “And if it comes with a side of wearing a suit that looks great—even better.”

Read, watch, and listen with the critics:

Collateral” (2004)
Pulp Fiction” (1994)
No Country for Old Men” (2007)
Hit Man” (2024)
Dazed and Confused” (1993)
Hit Men Are Easy to Find in the Movies. Real Life Is Another Story,” by Jessie McKinley (The New York Times)
“This Gun for Hire” (1942)
Le Samouraï” (1967)
The Killer” (2023)
“Aggro Dr1ft” (2024)
John Wick” (2014)
“Barry” (2018-23)

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