Hit Man (2024): Is the Netflix Movie Based on a True Story?

The critically acclaimed black-comedy ‘Hit Man’ offers plenty of action and romance with its unique story. The Netflix action production follows a part-time New Orleans Police Department employee who unexpectedly finds himself pretending to be a hitman who accepts contracts to take lives in exchange for money, only to hand them over to the authorities. Starring Glen Powell in the lead role, the plot chronicles the poser’s effectiveness in adopting various disguises and accents that introduce him to several characters seeking lethal services, including Adria Arjona’s Maddy.

Boyhood’ director Richard Linklater joined hands with the streaming giant to turn this project into reality. The intriguing premise of ‘Hit Man‘ invites audiences into a world where reality blurs with performance, leaving questioning about what might have inspired such a compelling story and whether it could have roots in real events.

Hit Man Loosely Explores the Life of a College Professor Turned Undercover Hitman

To develop ‘Hitman,’ Richard Linklater reunited with his ‘Bernie’ co-writer, journalist Skip Hollandsworth, adapting another of his magazine stories, ‘Hit Man,’ from a 2001 edition of Texas Monthly. However, the film adaptation of the report is not a straight-up biographical depiction, though it is nevertheless inspired by true events. Taking loose inspiration from the piece — a dramatized accounting of reality — the movie exaggerates the dual life of Gary Johnson, an undercover operative whose professional duties starkly contrast with his peaceful personal life.

The cinematic portrayal of Johnson’s story combines the factual elements of his life and his investigations — sometimes multiple events into one — in order to raise the dramatic nuances of Powell’s character, thus offering a compelling look into the complexities of his undercover work, if not thoroughly accurate. One of the most apparent alterations the screenplay had to resort to was the geographical locality of Johnson’s heroics. Unlike New Orleans, Johnson led an unassuming life in the serene neighborhoods north of Houston. The shift in location also brought the University of New Orleans into the equation, where Powell’s character is shown to be a professor in psychology. In reality, Johnson lectured on human psychology and sexuality at a local community college in Space City.

Though Powell catches what his neighbors described as the politeness and gentleness of Johnson, his characterization has been written into a 30-something years old, as opposed to the real-life agent’s 54-year-old self, according to the 2001 report. The edits suggest that given its lead actor’s popularity, the writers — Richard Linklater and Powell himself — might not have had much choice but to reduce Gary’s age by a couple of decades. The film also captures his love for cats, showing him pet Id and Ego — named after Johnson’s real-life cats — and his vast knowledge of flora, with the character spending significant time gardening.

Initially a part-time staffer with the Texas Police Department, Johnson quickly discovered his knack for the theatrical demands of his new position. He used to misguide his suspects’ expectations with adequately believable costumes, accents, and mannerisms, making him especially effective at gaining their trust and convincing would-be clients that he was the professional killer they sought. Powell’s version accurately captures these traits; he plays them humorously for the commercial tone of the movie.

Gary Johnson Did Really Go Rogue to Save a Woman From Authorities

‘Hit Man,’ the movie adaptation, features Adria Arjona as Maddy, a fictional character who hires Gary to murder her husband. The plot transforms one real-life encounter into this central plot point to serve romantic elements to the backdrop of an action film. Soon after Gary convinces Maddy to seek better options for help and — being the nice guy he is — returns her money, the two become romantically involved. Though this storyline is added to provide depth to the narrative and humanize Johnson’s ability to empathize, this is also, in fact, rooted in an actual incident.

In Hollandsworth’s report, one of the most compelling real-life stories involves Johnson’s encounter with a young woman seeking help to escape her abusive boyfriend. Unlike his usual sting operations, Johnson improvised, and his approach to this case diverged significantly from his standard procedures. The young woman, spending her mornings at a Starbucks in Houston’s Montrose area, confided in an employee about her situation. Desperate and terrified, she asked if the person knew someone to carry out the assassination, only for him to contact the police, thus bringing the matter into Johnson’s hands.

Johnson conducted his routine research and confirmed that the woman was indeed a victim of severe abuse. Recognizing her genuine fear, he chose not to set up a sting to arrest her. Instead, he referred her to social service agencies and a therapist, ensuring she received the necessary support to leave her abusive relationship and find safety in a women’s shelter. This act of compassion sheds light on Johnson’s righteousness, which wouldn’t just blindly follow the orders but distinguish between right and wrong before committing to action, almost as heroic as a movie’s protagonist.

In his report, Hollandsworth recalled teasing Johnson over his out-of-character softness, to which the latter responded smiling, “Just this once.” It should be noted that despite taking such special care of the lady, Johnson was not interested in romantic entanglements, and no subsequent romance blossomed between the real-life hero and the damsel in distress. The fake assassin was married thrice, and his second ex-wife, Sunny, chipped in the report that her ex liked the quiet of being alone, despite his friendly persona.

The piece also mentioned Johnson’s ability to listen and pay attention to women, often drawing them in his direction. However, being not a romantic, he was not as keen on maintaining relationships for extended periods. The aforementioned claims suggest that Johnson, who sadly passed away in 2022 before he could watch the film, always prioritized his mission over his personal life, supposedly making it a trickier job for Powell and Linklater to bring his true story to life in a lighthearted manner in ‘Hit Man.’

Read More: Where Was Hit Man Filmed?