The Virtuoso, 2021.
Directed by Nick Stagliano.
Starring Anson Mount, Abbie Cornish, Anthony Hopkins, Eddie Marsan, Richard Brake, Diora Baird, Chris Perfetti, and David Morse.
A lonesome stranger, secure, nerves of steel, must track down and kill a rogue Hitman to satisfy an outstanding debt. But the only information he’s been given is a time and location where to find his quarry – 5 pm at a rustic diner in the dying town. No name, no description, nothing. When the assassin arrives there are several possible targets, including the county sheriff. Endangering his life, the assassin embarks on a manhunt to find the Hitman and accomplish his mission. But the danger escalates when the erotic encounters with a local woman threaten to derail his task.
The Virtuoso opens with the eponymous assassin (played by Anson Mount with the requisite emptiness and cold demeanor for being a killer for hire) narrating what at first seems like an unnecessary amount of detail for his line of work. Some of his assassination techniques rely on such specificity that the film already starts to strain believability, but the brooding performance and awakening of seemingly long-dead morals are enough to intrigue.
Following a smooth job replicating what looks like an expert playing one of the Hitman video games on Master Assassin difficulty, the film itself sort of turns into what it looks like when I play one of those games; the job gets done in a messy fashion. In this particular mission (there’s also a monologue about how our protagonist only accepts contracts for government or corporate officials), a sniper rifle bullet penetrating a car tire causes his target to spin out and crash into a larger vehicle setting off an explosion (physics be damned), where a nearby mother and child become collateral damage inadvertently catching fire and burning to death.
This is where The Virtuoso is noticeably rattled to the point where he can’t even bring himself to talk to his boss, vaguely known as The Mentor (played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, a professional as always trying his best with the material even if one big speech comes across as something between rambling and interesting, which is also a succinct summary of this film in general). Nevertheless, The Mentor tells a horrifying war story (inside that story we also learn his connection to The Virtuoso) that basically amounts to “shit happens, clear your mind and get ready for the next target”.
The Virtuoso is only given the time and the place for his next mission, a small town where he must enter a rundown bar and psychologically profile the patrons to figure out which one is the evidently high-ranking target. Now, at what could be a crossroads of whether he wants to continue this line of work or not, there’s definitely some pleasantness in getting a quick whodunnit. What I was not prepared for (and what sinks the film for a multitude of reasons) is that this mission would take up the remaining 90 or so minutes.
Inside the local joint for the night are characters credited as The Loner (Eddie Marsan), The Waitress (Abbie Cornish), Handsome Johnnie and Johnnie’s Girl (Richard Brake and Diora Baird, respectively), The Deputy (David Morse), with a few others ranging from a motel clerk to a dysfunctional couple arguing at a gas station rounding out this chamber piece. To the credit of the supporting cast, they are also doing the best they can with what’s here and are not the problem. And while it’s fine that director Nick Stagliano (alongside screenwriter Jack C Wolfe) want to shift the established internal crisis of the protagonist into a full-blown mystery, exploring whether or not he can shake off the tragic ending of his last outing to succeed, they lose all sense of characterization for this assassin in favor of predictable twists and turns. At around the halfway point, you get a sense of where The Virtuoso is going and what pitfalls the story could fall into. Not to mention, The Virtuoso magically turns into a bumbling idiot of a hired killer in ways that have no correlation whatsoever to his newly haunted state of mind.
In a nutshell, anything potentially interesting there is about the titular hitman is squandered once the real plot kicks in. That mystery turns out to be generic and unsatisfactory. The Virtuoso occasionally gets to interact with a waitress that’s interested in him, except he can’t let his guard down for a second around her hinting at the reality that even if he wants to, he will never be able to return to a normal life. Of course, like anything promising within The Virtuoso, it doesn’t really matter because it’s too busy trying to outsmart the audience, which it also fails at.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com