Richard Linklater Talks ‘Hit Man’ & The Myth Of The Hired Gun; Says Of Strikes “I Think Something’s Gotta Give” Venice

Richard Linklater’s Hit Man debuts out of competition in Venice this evening, and while the story follows a professional killer, the filmmaker told the press corps today, “I’m pretty sure movies invented hitmen, they aren’t real.”

His theory, “Have you ever heard of a hitman being arrested? You hear of people soliciting hitmen all the time, but they don’t exist. Mobs, drug cartels yes… but this idea, that couldn’t be more clear. Like, there’s no such thing that you meet someone that you’ve never met that you just pay like you’re paying them to mow your lawn to kill someone… It would be so easy to arrest them.” 

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The film aims in part to deconstruct the notion of the gun for hire. Linklater added, “The more interesting thing is why we love that character so much. It goes with cinema, there’s so many great hitmen. Next year there will be three more hitmen movies here.”

Hit Man centers on Glen Powell’s Gary Johnson, the most sought-after professional killer in New Orleans. To his clients, he’s like something out of a movie: the mysterious gun for hire. But if you pay him to rub out a cheating spouse or an abusive boss, you’d better watch your back — he works for the cops. When he breaks protocol to help a desperate woman (Adria Arjona) trying to flee an abusive boyfriend, he finds himself becoming one of his false personas, falling for the woman and flirting with turning into a criminal himself.

The story is loosely based on a true crime article Linklater came across about 20 years ago in the Texas Monthly. The film, he has said, “is attempting to hit a lot of notes — comedy, noir, thriller, psychological study — while examining most of all the concept of identity and how fixed our personalities may or may not be.”

Speaking to the theme of identity, Linklater related it to the issues of today. “We’re swimming in misinformation and created characters and there are a lot of opportunities for people to represent themselves as they aren’t. The movie is reflective of the f*cked-up-ed-ness of our times.”

Can people change is also “the core of what we’re exploring… It gets more interesting in this age. That’s what everybody should be striving for as a human being. We all want to be better… I hope that’s an empowering message.”

While it’s a serious film on one level, it’s also got a screwball comedy element. “I love making movies,” the Oscar nominee said, “cause you work with people and we laugh a lot.” When hiring actors, his two main criteria are that they be “smart and funny, that’s a good start.”

This is the fourth project Linklater and Powell have worked on together following Fast Food Nation, Everybody Wants Some!! and Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood. Linklater today called the actor “smart, funny and charming. He’s obviously a star.”

Amid the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, however, the cast of Hit Man was not in attendance. Asked to comment on the situation, Linklater said, “Everyone’s feeling it I think, no one’s happy. But that’s kind of the problem when you’re in an industry and suddenly no one’s happy, it’s time to recalibrate and come forward with some things that (will) be fair to everyone. I think something’s gotta give. I’m not really in the middle of it so much. I think it’ll it’ll be resolved… Every now and then, there’s time to do a correction for the future. We’re all feeling our way through it, rolling with it best we can.”

Of his Merrily We Roll Along, which began production in 2019 and is a 20-year project, Linklater said, “Eighteen years from now we might be done. We’re shooting again pretty soon if we can. I’m hopeful like everyone that the strikes will be resolved by then, I think they will.”

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