The Virtuoso (
Directed by Nick Stagliano
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Abbie Cornish, Eddie Marsan and Anson Mount
Back in the day, pre DVDs, pre-internet, I used to review films for a now defunct magazine. I was way down the pecking order in terms of choosing what films I could cover so I generally got a lot of straight to VHS time-coded tapes to wade through. If I was lucky these might come with a side of A4 giving a title, a synopsis and cast. Sometimes there’d be a colour cover slick but quite often it was just a blank white box and a computer printed title sticker on a plain black tape. Back then there was no searching the internet to find out about the film you were about to watch, no IMDB to cross reference a director or actor. You pressed play, carried whatever knowledge you might have had about the cast and crew with you and let the movie roll. You had to make up your own mind about whatever was going on. You couldn’t check if the film had been critically lauded or lampooned. Sometimes you’d be guessing what genre the film was even supposed to be if any at all.
Which is all a round about way of saying I am in the dark about how The Virtuoso has been pitched or will be marketed. All I had was a screener link and a hyperbolic paragraph of a press release with a minimal synopsis. It’s a hitman movie. That much is clear. But is it serious or a deadpan comedy? It’s kind of hard to tell. Of course I could easily look it up right now. And I could easily rewrite what I’ve written armed with more information but, as an exercise, I’m not going to do that. I’ll play it as it lays.
The movie opens with our hitman hero, The Virtuoso, on a hit (nobody has names here, in the credits they are referenced as their archetype so Anthony Hopkins is The Mentor, Abbie Cornish is The Waitress etc etc). There’s an earnest voice-over in which The Virtuoso gives an instructional narration on what he’s doing and why. The voice is tweaked in the sound design so its not so much a whisper in your ear more the kind of voice in your head that you might see a psychiatrist about. And maybe one reading is that The Virtuoso is talking to himself, like a self-help monologue, chivvying himself along, trying to convince himself he is indeed a master assassin when all the evidence points to something else entirely
Like many insecure men, The Virtuoso is keen on bigging himself up but based on what is put in front of us he’s completely inept. Something always goes wrong. Maybe something has always gone wrong for him and that’s why his handler The Mentor deals with him in the way he does. Anthony Hopkins plays The Mentor and aside from one scene-chewing monologue revealing his personal history with The Virtuoso’s father he is often, quite literally, phoning it in.
The Virtuoso himself is played by Anson Mount, an actor who I can’t recall ever watching in anything before. Here he has a ruggedly handsome face, immaculate hair and a nice line in jumpers and black gloves. He looks like a model for a not quite top tier perfume, something that would probably come in a blue glass bottle and have a silver anchor somewhere on its packaging. He has a mean looking mouth and his taciturn ways are, I am presuming, supposed to be moody and mysterious but often have him coming over as a bit of an anti-social dick. And that voice-over is forever telling us what he’s seeing in a situation that we’re not seeing but to be honest, with zero experience of being a professional hitman, I think I would’ve made some better choices than The Virtuoso does.
And so, without spoiling the slimline plot, The Virtuoso gets sent out by the avuncular Mentor to carry out a hit with instructions as precise as a cryptic crossword puzzle. He finds himself in a diner where he runs into a couple of archetypes played by top notch character actors who are given nothing to work with. Eddie Marsan as The Loner is particularly underused. And The Waitress in this tiny town happens to be Abbie Cornish. Everything is, unsurprisingly, not what it seems but it takes a pointless sex scene for our charmless hero to finally twig what’s going on and propel the film to its underwhelming climax. The only surprising thing in the entire movie is the fact that a Virtuoso as inept as this had managed to avoid being killed or arrested on any of his previous assignments.
The Virtuoso is an odd movie and I’m still unsure as to whether it is supposed to be a black comedy in which case it’s partially successful or an actual straight thriller in which case its a total dud. I get the sense that director Stagliano and writer James C Wolf have taken what could’ve been a pulpy retro-noir in the manner of Red Rock West or The Hot Spot so seriously that it slipped into parody.
The Virtuoso is released on streaming platforms on April 30th and on DVD on May 10th.
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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