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Richard Linklater’s Comedy Thriller ‘Hit Man’ Draws Killer Reception in Venice

The otherwise unassuming figure of Richard Linklater was the star attraction at the Venice Film Festival on Tuesday night, as the beloved filmmaker’s latest feature, Hit Man, held its world premiere on the Lido.

The film — a darkly comic thriller about an unlikely undercover assassin and starring a wildly charismatic Glen Powell and Adria Arjona (neither in attendance because of the SAG-AFTRA strike) — proved a huge hit with the Venice festival crowd, drawing a standing ovation of six minutes, with cheers from the audience.

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Based on a true-crime magazine article written by Skip Hollandsworth (with whom Linklater collaborated on his 2011 film, Bernie), Hit Man tells the story of a real-life, mild-mannered psychology professor who moonlit as an undercover hitman for the New Orleans police. But when he breaks protocol to help a desperate woman trying to flee an abusive boyfriend, the character finds himself becoming one of his false personas, falling for the woman and flirting with turning into a criminal himself.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the world premiere, Linklater — the indie pioneer behind Dazed and Confused, Boyhood and the Before trilogy of films — revealed that it was actually his lead Powell (who starred in the director’s feature Everybody Wants Some!! but was catapulted into the mainstream thanks to last year’s Top Gun: Maverick) who helped get the project going.

“When I read the original article, I thought this material would be a great place for a dark comedy to take place,” he said. “I had a few meetings about it over the years, but it just didn’t take off as a full story — until Glen Powell called me up during the pandemic and said, ‘Hey, I just read this great article about a hitman.'” The two then co-developed and co-wrote the screenplay during an intense period of collaboration during the pandemic.

Linklater also lamented the current challenges facing U.S. indie filmmaking.

“It feels like it’s gone with the wind — or gone with the algorithm,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll talk to some of my contemporaries who I came up with during the 1990s, and we’ll go, ‘Oh my God, we could never get that done today.’ So, on the one hand, selfishly, you think, ‘I guess I was born at the right time. I was able to participate in what always feels like the last good era for filmmaking.’ And then you hope for a better day.”

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