Synopsis: Danger, deception, and murder descend upon a sleepy country town when a professional assassin accepts a new assignment from his enigmatic mentor and boss, given only a cryptic clue to identify his mysterious mark from among several possible targets.
Stars: Anson Mount, Abbie Cornish, Anthony Hopkins, Eddie Marsan, David Morse
Director: Nick Stagliano
Running Length: 110 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Wow, do you think the producers and distributors of The Virtuoso went to bed this past Oscar Sunday a little more excited for the prospects of their small thriller? Prior to that day they had an Oscar winning star listed above the title but thanks to his unforgettable performance in The Father star Anthony Hopkins earned himself another one and under some fairly high-profile circumstances. That will surely get people a little more interested in his next project and while The Virtuoso isn’t top tier stuff (I’m not sure it ever quite makes it to second shelf status, actually) it’s good for a little distraction in our post-Oscar palette cleanse.
It’s really not even fair to say Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) has much of a role in the film; ads show him as much more involved in the action than the 83-year-old actually is or would probably want to be. Instead, Hopkins’ scenes are largely contained within one room and constitute one half of phone conversations between himself and The Virtuoso (Anson Mount, Non-Stop), a nameless assassin. As The Mentor, he’s there to provide The Virtuoso with information on his next assignment and stay out of the way, which seems to be the perfect fit for the distinguished actor as well as the natty gentlemen he’s playing.
Opening with a nifty bang, things go south for the hitman when he bungles an assignment that leaves an unfortunate instance of collateral damage. He’s trained not to care about such blips but something about this moment shakes him, sending The Mentor in for a face-to-face meeting to check on his viability moving forward. Cleared for his next task, The Mentor sends him to a quiet township in the middle of nowhere important with the vaguest of clues provided by their contact. With two words, White Rivers, his only cue to go off of and a rendezvous location named, The Virtuoso arrives in town to find he isn’t the only one to show up with a mission to kill.
There’s some good stuff to be found in the basic premise of the script from James C. Wolf, even if it annoyingly tends to favor voiceover to get us inside The Virtuoso’s head. Narrating the film to give us outsiders his inside take on every situation and angle of defense, The Virtuoso isn’t exactly the most engaging of narrators thanks to his occupational hazard of removing emotion from his business. In Mount’s hands, or voice rather, it does begin to drone on and sound like an adult character from Peanuts after a while. You wish Wolf or director Nick Stagliano would have found an easier way to crack the surface and allow some sort of sentiment or personality into The Virtuoso’s hemisphere. Where the voiceover comes in handy is when he’s sizing up who has also appeared at the same time he’s arrived, and his rundown of the suspects is one of the first ways the movie sends us down a tricky path that isn’t always what it appears to be. Even with our leading character serving as narrator, don’t trust everything you’re hearing.
The list of suspects fills out the remainder of the cast. There’s The Waitress (Abbie Cornish, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) who catches The Virtuoso’s eye just out of town and winds up being a happy accident run-in later on. Still…was their meeting by chance or a carefully plotted bit of intrigue? Or what about The Loner (Eddie Marsan, Atomic Blonde) or Handsome Johnnie (Richard Brake, Spy) or even The Deputy (David Morse, Concussion) who The Waitress doesn’t remember seeing before today. All provide their own contributions to the puzzle we’re putting together at the same time The Virtuoso is and I don’t know if I wasn’t paying attention or what but the solution to it all is truly there from the beginning. Careful viewers could catch it if they are looking at the right time.
As far as blank stares go, Mount has it down so his casting likely is perfect though I’d wonder what an actor able to convey greater range with such little outward dialogue could have done. Cornish earns points for committing to a gratuitous nude scene but scores the most in the way she’s able to keep a poker face far longer than we might expect from the character. How much his recent Oscar win will get people to check this one out is anyone’s guess but if they do, they’ll be treated to an all-in Hopkins performance and not merely a quick money grab like a number of his peers are starting to sign up for (I’m looking at you, Morgan Freeman and Vanquish from a few weeks back.) Hopkins delivers the single best scene in the entire film and it’s a doozy of a monologue. If you haven’t already, follow The Virtuoso up with The Father and watch his masterful skill really go to town.