A ruthlessly efficient hitman with a sprouting conscience is in debt to his shadowy mentor. Despite his meticulous nature and attention to detail, he has a penchant for attracting complicated distractions and collateral carnage.
His latest mark is the mysterious White Rivers, however, before the whacking can commence he must identify them from a nest of ner do wells gathered in a backwater diner.
Nick Stagliano’s first film in nearly a decade begins spritely enough with a well-executed slaying and an engaging neo-noir voice-over. Unfortunately, there is also a bizarrely static car crash that mirrors the narrative inertia that is to follow.
1980’s style A-Team explosions aside, The Virtuoso has a pleasing aesthetic that on the whole nails the clear noir intentions. The script is nimble and natural, up to a point, with some fresh perspectives on the machinations of money-motivated murder. Yet, it is the casting that proves both the movie’s greatest asset and most frustrating flaw.
Anson mount looks fabulously slick as our off-grid gun for hire. In a performance that hints at future genre greatness, you get the impression he was kicking his heels a bit looking for meatier, more kinetic manhandling. We are forced to rely on anecdotal reverence to ascertain his danger levels, rather than witnessing fully the wit and guile that has earned his virtuoso tag.
Abbie Cornish pops up as the diner owner and prospective romantic interest and makes light work of her plot shackled part. Her spunky hostess serving up a side dish of cod psychology is the most likable person in the picture. That being said, you can’t help but think her breasts are only unleashed to muster gratuitous ballast to a slowly sinking storyline.
Freshly statued screen legend Anthony Hopkins is the nihilistic hitman handler who believes that “Humans are all homicidal killing machines”. As you would expect he sucks out every morsel of character development marrow from the barest of bones, but one show-stopping monologue aside, he is treading water in the shallow end of the paycheck pool.
The supporting cast is of such quality it is hard not to feel a little short-changed by the brevity of their contributions. The likes of Eddie Marsan and Richard Brake are more than capable of rescuing a poor film let alone flattering a good one. It would be harsh to accuse The Virtuoso of wasting its talent kitty but a more nuanced approach to backstories would have helped the film’s creaky middle third no end.
There are intermittent flourishes of style to enjoy but the inevitable twists feel forced and the characters coerced into a predestined conclusion to the detriment of organic narrative flow.
The filmmakers should be applauded for having the confidence to approach the contract killer flick from an angle of subtlety. Those looking for a more grounded experience than the whack-a-mole mega violence of John Wick and Nobody may well relish the eschatological slant on morally weighted trigger pulling.
The Virtuoso shows early potential to evolve into an engrossing assassination procedural. Ultimately it drowses in the shade of more progressive hitman flicks and struggles to impose its identity on an already crowded genre strand.
Neo-Noir Thriller Mystery | USA, 2021 | Cert: 15 | 105 min | Lionsgate | Digital Download 30 April and DVD 10 May | Dir. Nick Stagliano| Cast. Anson Mount, Anthony Hopkins, Abbie Cornish
Lionsgate presents The Virtuoso on Digital Download 30th April and DVD 10th May.