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Acting Up: Adria Arjona Keeps Everyone Guessing With Her Stellar Performance in Richard Linklater’s ‘Hit Man’

The Snapshot

In the Sundance smash Hit Man, Adria Arjona is Madison, a beautiful young woman in a bad marriage who may or may not want her estranged husband killed. She approaches a man she thinks is a professional killer, who turns out to be a mild-mannered college professor moonlighting for the police department as a fake hitman (Glen Powell).

(Hit Man will be released on Netflix on June 7.)

The Performance

For the first half hour or so of Richard Linklater’s new dark comedy, rising movie star Glen Powell charms the audience with his good looks, his sense of humor and his easygoing nature. He’s playing Gary Johnson, a college professor who moonlights as a fake hitman for the New Orleans Police Department. It starts innocently enough. He’s an electronics expert who helps with wiretaps and undercover ops when the lead detective is suspended and Gary is pressed into action.

Powell is a natural in front of the camera. We see him use disguises and fake accents and all kinds of other tricks to nail people who want to kill loved ones.

Roughly 32 minutes in, Arjona’s Madison enters and instantly changes the vibe. She brings an edge. Danger. Sex. It’s an enormous shift in the film’s tone, but not an unwelcome one.

Arjona’s entrance also brings with it gravitas and drama, which, by that point, the film needs. The natural chemistry she shares with Powell makes the film even more enjoyable, while also giving it, and the audience, stakes.

Arjona’s Madison could easily be just a love interest, and in a lesser film, that’s exactly how she would be. She certainly starts that way, but quickly turns into a femme fatale, and then evolves further (to say more would play spoiler, and that’s no fun).

The truth is that you’re never really sure exactly who Madison is, where she stands and what she’s capable of until the end. While the germ of that comes from good writing — the screenplay was written by Linklater and Powell — the practice comes out in the acting. Just as Arjona singlehandedly changes the movie upon her entrance, she also keeps the audience — and Powell’s Gary Johnson — on our toes.

The thing about femme fatales is that they can become a cliché, and they can also instantly lose the audience’s sympathy if not played right. Arjona avoids both pitfalls with ease. The moment Madison becomes especially dangerous, the audience is still somehow rooting for her to be more than just another bad girl.

On the contrary, she’s unique in how alluring she remains even after we think she might lead our hero to his doom. Arjona makes us want for her to be something more. We want things to work out, even when it seems completely impossible.

When that kind of thing happens, you need to sit up and take notice. Again, the writing helps, but great scripts are ruined by poor acting choices all the time. Arjona’s work in Hit Man won’t give her career the boost that Powell’s will get (he is after all the star of the movie). If there’s any justice, then it’s only a matter of time before she’ll get to play that lead role. When that time comes, she will have earned it. 

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell embracing inside a white apartment. Photo via Netflix.

The Career

There’s something special about being the person people talk about when they say, “Oh, jeez, that movie was awful. Although, ______ was good!” You want to be that name filling in the blank. The one good thing that people took away from a cinematic disappointment. 

That’s what Adria Arjona took from the atrocious 2022 superhero movie Morbius, in which she played the colleague of star Jared Leto’s titular scientist who becomes a vampire and … well, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is how strong Arjona was in something of a thankless role. On the surface, she’s eye candy in a plotless mess, but look closer and you’ll see that she actually brings class to the proceedings and is the smartest person in the room.

Arjona said in interviews that this is why she took the part, and it shows. 

The 32-year-old actress has been finding larger roles in her decade-long career. She showed up in a half dozen episodes of the second season of HBO’s True Detective, played Dorothy in the 2017 Wizard of Oz update Emerald City and showed up in plenty of genre fares like The Belko Experiment and Pacific Rim: Uprising.

Arjona also had supporting roles in the Melissa McCarthy comedy Life of the Party, the Ben Affleck thriller Triple Frontier, is one of the titular six in 6 Underground and was in five of the six episodes in Season One of Good Omens. She has since appeared in the sensational Andor and the 2022 remake of Father of the Bride, in which she played said bride alongside Andy Garcia. Just last month, she was cast as one of the leads in the new Amazon series, Criminal

In other words, Arjona’s clearly more than a pretty face. She’s also a versatile performer with genuine range who is probably just one role away from becoming a bona fide star in her own right. One viewing of Hit Man is all you’ll need to see how true that is.

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