Movie Review: The Virtuoso (2021)

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As we watch him execute his target at the beginning of the largely lifeless “The Virtuoso,” Anson Mount's unnamed hitman regales us with tongue-twister levels of alliteration. In his clunky voice-over narration, Mount describes the tricks of his trade. This means that for professional killers hoping for pristine, precise hits, it’s of paramount procedure to follow the protocols of planning and position in order to persevere. I'm paraphrasing, of course, but as Mount punches those alliterative words with purpose – undoubtedly trying to make sense of it all – it's hard not to feel like you're getting hit in the face by the “P” key of an old-fashioned typewriter for how often they're used.

Following up one surgically precise assassination with a rushed hit that goes wrong almost as soon as it starts, writer James C. Wolf's “Virtuoso” screenplay loosens up after that. Abandoning the emphasis on “P,” as though one consequence of the botched job was to cause the pages of Wolf's thesaurus to become unstuck, we watch as our virtuoso killer is lured away from his rustic, self-imposed isolation in the woods by his trusted employer (a game yet wasted Anthony Hopkins).

Making a horrifying meal out of a matter-of-fact monologue about the time his character was ordered to slaughter men, women, and children in Vietnam, Hopkins proves why he and he alone is the film's true virtuoso. Dropping in like a veritable hired gun for a few scenes before he presumably goes off to work on grander fare like “The Father,” Hopkins is easily the best thing in this self-important mess of a B-movie.

Sending Mount on a cryptic assignment where the quarry is given a code name like he's The Riddler in a Batman movie, our virtuoso ventures to a country town in the middle of nowhere. After a chance run-in with a few suspicious strangers at a gas station, he suddenly finds himself in a diner full of shady figures he's supposed to covertly assess as potential targets. Forgetting his lofty voice-over protocols of planning and precision, illogically, Mount just starts running the code name past people, quickly becoming the most conspicuous man in town.

One of those films with classic or neo-noir ambitions that at times you think might've been attempting to strive for “Key Largo” or even “Identity” like atmosphere and tension with its ensemble cast of characters in a small setting, the most surprising thing about director Nick Stagliano's muted, muddied “Virtuoso” is just how unsurprising it is from start to finish.

Almost as soon as one particular stranger is introduced, genre conventions tell you precisely where this thing is headed and like its hitman (well, in the first hit anyway) it doesn't deviate from its plan. Saddled with wooden dialogue and zero chemistry between the leads, “The Virtuoso” spends the rest of its 110 minute running time trying to make you believe another twist is coming. Sadly, it doesn't take long to realize that, despite the film's allusions to the contrary, Mount's visibly bored main character is many things but a virtuoso is not one of them.

Hoping to stack the deck, the movie is loaded with terrific character actors like the aforementioned Hopkins as well as Abbie Cornish, Eddie Marsan, and David Morse, some of whom appear for only the briefest of scenes to hopefully follow Hopkins' lead to show up, do the work, collect the paycheck, and get the hell out.

Still, whether it's with its talented cast, the film's few bursts of violence, or its near-bookended, gratuitously clinical depictions of nudity/sex which only call attention to themselves, no matter how hard “The Virtuoso” tries to command our attention, it's impossible to camouflage just how dull it is overall.

Bowing into theaters in some markets (including Phoenix) only five days after Hopkins garnered his second Oscar and four days before it bows onto DVD and Blu-ray, since curiosity over Hopkins' involvement is sure to drive some people to see this on the big screen, the timing of the film couldn't be better. Reinforcing Mount's words about the importance of his many professional “P”'s, what “The Virtuoso” lacks in pristine precision, its marketing team more than makes up for with their plan to persevere with a little help from gold.

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