The Virtuoso is held back by an uninspiring script that hampers itself from the start; a premise that could have had legs is wasted to become a standard assassin thriller.
Given only a time, a location, and a cryptic clue, the methodical hitman (Anson Mount) must identify his mysterious foe from among several possible targets, including a local sheriff (David Morse). Meanwhile, a chance encounter with an alluring woman (Abbie Cornish) at the town’s rustic diner threatens to derail his mission altogether.
There is an astonishingly good speech 20 minutes into The Virtuoso from Anthony Hopkins about an event he and our assassin’s fathers give you hope that the rest of the film will be on par with what to come. Still, it falls apart from there, and it really shouldn’t; we have an exciting cast who look like they want to do their best; something in this script obviously invested them. They all deserve better, yet when a thriller lacks any sort of tension other than having its audience lazily guess what is going to happen in the next scene, we are left with a film that is firmly in what could have been.
The worst sin that The Virtuoso commits is that right after Hopkins monologue, you almost certainly know what direction our leads fate will be. Could that be from seeing too many hitman style thrillers? Possibly, but it makes everything that we see feel lazy. Though the final twist in those last minutes almost saves it. But with a script that is doing its best to distract us from the obvious end game, it begins to reveal that it doesn’t quite know what it is doing. As we continue to be more bogged down by the faults, it presents us with one glaring issue, our protagonist isn’t someone we should care for.
The ticking off all of the noir hitman tropes is intriguing, as there could be so many possibilities for the film to venture down, yet it decides to revert to the easy option every time. When you have a capable director and a far too good cast, you need to give them something to bite their teeth onto, yet everyone is written as paper-thin as possible.
Only having our assassin be haunted now after he has killed enough people to class himself as a “virtuoso” for one person to die via collateral damage should not be the catalyst to such a murderers psyche. If it was a group of people, we would understand a bit more, but one person? It just doesn’t seem to ring true. We need a reason to understand why this has affected him. For goodness sake, he literally shot a man’s genitals as his lover was having sex with him. Did he care for her as she is traumatised? Not at all; he even derides her in his narration. He doesn’t care and shouldn’t care, have the collateral damage be a group of school kids or something, make it something that has to live with him.
Speaking of that scene, I want to know what on earth was in that RV for a car going 20mph tops to bang into the back of it and for it to have an explosion that Commando and Tango and Cash would be proud of. This then brings us to the utter lack of action we have here, usually for a film as underwritten as this, there are generally at least several good action scenes. Not so here, my friends, instead narration comes over the speakers, and we phase out as Mount sounds as interested as Harrison Ford did in the Blade Runner narration.
Abbie Cornish does well with her underwritten character; her personable waitress can bring a little heart to the film. Sadly, there is an entirely unnecessary need for nudity that doesn’t truly mesh with the story being told and feels more gratuitous than it needs to be. Hopkins does what he can with his character, who, except for that terrific monologue scene at a cemetery, seems to have done a more invested Cameron Mitchell and filmed a couple of scenes in his drawing-room. Yet, his performance is rife with conflict from what we can gather anyway; with so little screen time, he can only do so much with what he has.
Frustratingly for Mount, he has moments when he shines, yet in the aforementioned Hopkins monologue scene, he is stood there gormlessly as if he didn’t know he was on camera. Then he has moments where is showing a bit of charisma, but by being given a character that doesn’t show emotion other than an odd bit of conflict about that death, then as said, it is hard to care for him, and as such, Mount is in a no-win situation.
The Virtuoso needed to take that opening act and make itself into a film that shows how this incident wrecks a man; Bruges did this wonderfully well, which could have been something of a similar vein, yet here we are a watchable film, but instantly forgettable.
The Virtuoso is on Digital Download 30 April and DVD 10 May from Lionsgate.
Amazon DVD: https://amzn.to/31yc95q
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