THE VIRTUOSO – movie review

Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nick Stagliano
Writer: James C. Wolf
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Abbie Cornish, Anson Mount, Eddie Marsan, Diora Baird, David Morse
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/8/21
Opens: April 30, 2021

The Virtuoso - IMDb

Once back in high school when we were sitting around having a bull session, he gave us advise. “The way to attract girls is to be a man of mystery. Don’t reveal too much about yourself. Don’t show much emotion.” This is probably not bad advice, because if you watch the title character (Anson Mount) in “The Virtuoso” as he drives around a rural section of our country, you can’t help wondering about this “lonesome stranger.” Lonesome, mostly taciturn stranger is exactly what he wants people to think. Just ask the waitress (Abbie Cornish), whose name tag reads Dixi. She is taken at first sight when he walks in the diner’s door of the one-horse town. What’s he doing here? Why does he talk so little? Why isn’t he coming on to me? And, oh yes, it helps that he’s handsome, projecting the good looks of a George Clooney.

If you must know, though, he’s not a traveling salesman, he’s not trying to disappear from the earth to avoid the FBI. He’s a hit man, not wandering around with little to do, but a man with a mission. We get an idea about his profession near the opening when, accepting a job from The Mentor (Anthony Hopkins), who hires him to take out specific targets, he plans carefully, as when he shoots out the tire from a speeding car driven by a victim, knowing that the driver would make an overcorrection that would lead him crashing into a wall and making him a steady target. But professional though he is, he makes an error; or, not really his error, but the car’s. The vehicle hits a truck which blows up frying an innocent bystander. Collateral damage. That should be no problem for a virtuoso.

Anthony Hopkins, The Mentor, plays little more than a cameo role, another man of mystery albeit one not as handsome of The Virtuoso. He sits in a dark studio wearing a pair of dark shades, delivering messages to The Virtuoso, in this case telling him his mission is to take out a rogue hit person with the code “White River.” Somehow, if he asks strangers around town to tell him who or what is white river, he will find his quarry.

Bodies pile for one reason or another. One guy die of a heart attack, and The Virtuoso sets up a scenario to make the killing look like a burglary, the usual steps to take if you want to get away with murder. But his professionalism may be tainted when he meets The Waitress, who flirts with him, seems surprised that he is not taking the bait, her ego resting more easily when he invites her to stay in his motel room “until the snow stops.”

The Virtuoso is, as said, the man of mystery, but sometimes he is too mysterious for the audience to accept in good nature. He speaks little, smiles almost never, is just too aloof for us to take him as a real human being. What’s more this film is marred by this flaw: too much on narration. A film is not a book. We hear him thinking now and then, about how a professional should act. Don’t let the heart race. Slow the breath. Further, unless the streaming delivery that I received is not the final product, the words are difficult to understand, muted and coming across like people mumbling.

In the end, with a denouement which some astute followers of noir fiction might predict, all is explained, all becomes almost believable. The movie is directed by Nick Stagliano, his fourth feature, his work including “Good Day For It” about a man who had abandoned his wife, and “The Florentine,” about the lives of an ensemble of people who patronize a bar. This is James C. Wolf’s second full-length feature as a scripter.

110 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – C
Technical – C
Overall – C+