This is an odd, although not entirely unpleasant, one. Anson Mount plays a professional assassin known only as The Virtuoso (in the credits, at least; I don’t think he’s ever given a name in the film), who narrates his own observations about the work he does and how he does it. The Virtuoso opens with Mount (seen most recently as Capt. Pike in Star Trek: Discovery, and also as Blackbolt in the ill-fated Marvel series The Inhumans) killing a target by shooting him in the crotch while he’s having sex, followed up by a shot to the head, leaving the man’s sexual partner covered in blood but otherwise unhurt. (I did mention he’s a professional.)
But this killer is also showing signs of sensitivity and second-guessing some of his targets (more specifically, the collateral damage that accompanies his work), and when he’s called in by The Mentor (Anthony Hopkins), the man who gives him his assignments, it’s clear that he’s being observed carefully as he’s sent out on his next job. He’s sent to a quiet small town to kill a rogue hitman, but he’s not told the person’s name or what they look like (which is often the case in his line of work). He must use his powers of deduction to determine who the target is from a short list of possibilities, including The Loner (Eddie Marsan), Handsome Johnny (Richard Blake), and a local deputy (David Morse), all of whom seem suspect. With the help of a local waitress named Dixy (Abbie Cornish), the Virtuoso conducts a one-man manhunt, while trying not to die in the process.
Working from a screenplay by James C. Wolf, director Nick Stagliano (The Florentine) presents this enigmatic story as a fairly intriguing mystery, something of a neo-noir with a sexual undercurrent courtesy of Cornish, who only sees a handsome stranger in a town typically without a lot of handsome in it. And while Mount tries not to be distracted by her, he does find her intriguing and certainly knowledgeable enough about the locals to help him narrow his search. The manner in which he works his way through the suspects is efficient and fairly brutal, but also vaguely amusing in its casual nature.
The biggest issue with The Virtuoso is that it’s not that difficult to figure out two of the plot’s most important elements—who the actual target is and why our hitman antihero is the one sent to do this job. It seems as if the smartest guy here is also the only one who can’t figure these things out, which makes for a frustrating movie with an interesting premise. Mount is actually pretty solid as the strong, quiet but lethal lead. We get small bits of insight into his life, and he’s able to illuminate them with a subtle performance. Hopkins gives a key monologue early in the film that gave me chills and is easily the best thing in the movie. Unfortunately, it also has nothing to do with the main story, other than to add a bit of color to a fairly colorless affair. Cornish seems like the only human being in The Virtuoso and is probably the best thing in it, if you’re ranking characters.
The Virtuoso is better than I expected it would be, but still not that great. If it weren’t busy trying to be so clever and mysterious, it might have been something special. But as it is, it’s fair to middling. For those of us who get doses of Hopkins wherever we can these days, it’s probably worth your while for his handful of interesting scenes.
The film is now in select theaters and available on VOD.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!