You know you’re in the realm of archetypes when the ending credits of a movie prioritize describers over character names: Waitress, Loneliness, Mentor – and first of all, Virtuosonameless mercenary. Played by Anson Mount in a tight-lipped movie, he’s a killer for hire whose armor begins to crack, a bit excessively, after a failed hit. But it takes a bit of guilt to stop a killer from killing, and it takes more than a handful of archetypes and a bunch of movie trivia to make a compelling drama.
Working from a script by James Wolf that swings between tension and diversion, lead Nick Stagliano (The Florentine, A good day for it) created a more engaging light-hearted genre exercise than a related story.
Less than the sum of its mildly appealing parts.
The focus is on the character, but ultimately, the dramatic characters feel more like puzzle pieces than people. However, in the voluntary narrative mechanism, Mount (Star Trek: Discovery) trying to find an edge from time, Abbie Cornish injects some sexual heat, and Anthony Hopkins provides a bit of the actor’s intrigue, especially in a nine-minute monologue about what it means to be being a good soldier.
Put Virtuoso Behind the eight balls from the start, however, is an opening sequence so embedded with explanatory voiceover that it ends up looking like a spoof commercial for The Virtuoso! – your old gentleman killer. Mount’s perfect composite assassin cleared it all up for us: weapons, timing, risk, fees, the need for a non-USPS mailbox.
A brilliant expert who knows no other way of life, he lives in a state of constant readiness to kill or be killed. A suspiciously cute dog begins to show up at his isolated, off-grid cabin, sparking the first hints that a heart is actually beating beneath a handsome, unaffected shell. Before confronting the populace, Mount’s character practices basic human expressions in a mirror, feigning reactions such as amused, surprised, and amused.
But the emotions really leave the icy pro reeling, his way (i.e. flashbacks and a nice shout out), after a rapidly turning job leads to horrendous property damage. His manager, aka the Mentor (Hopkins), assured him, less than convincingly, that “it was me, not you” before explaining his skeptical view. him back to human and put his protégé back to work, this time in pursuit of a so “special” quarry that he could only provide simple and difficult identifying details. most understood.
Which leads to the series of puzzles at the heart of the movie: One chilly afternoon, our hitman walks into a country diner, finds it more populous than he expected, and must find out which patrons are. his prey. Here, the otherwise intrusive dub, with its insistence on the obvious as well as the irrelevant, gets interesting. Putting his DMV software and reasoning abilities to work, the trained expert tries to read a room full of actor-character faces: a married couple (Richard Brake, Diora Baird), an aunt gun-toting (Eddie Marsan), a cop (David Morse, who memorably played a small-town attorney in Sean Penn’s wonderful, Springsteen-inspired production Runner-up India).
The set-up has lots of classic noir elements, from a roadside cafe with an eye-catching burger (Cornish) to a suburban motel run by a nervous desk clerk. In his second role, Chris Perfetti delivers a gripping Norman Bates Lite turn, and the brief interactions between his confused character and Mount’s executioner, trying to play casual, have an energy of satisfaction.
But the film is at its most vivid, and its dialogue most effective, in the tightly packed exchanges between Mount and a sensitive Cornish dog in command. Her waitress is at once grounded and mysterious, and she flirts with an exhilarating outspokenness that almost dispels Mount assassin’s perpetual paranoia.
Shooting in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains and California’s Central Coast, Stagliano and DP Frank Prinzi kept things simply consistent rather than aiming for atmospheric flash. Their simple use of remote, jungle settings fits the winter story, which is strongest in its observations and outside of its center. The central puzzle is more complex with each turn of the plot, and Virtuoso Ultimately feels like a game, an interactive game that isn’t particularly engaging. The reward makes sense, but it delivers much less than intended.
Production company: Nazz Productions in association with 120db Films and Double Dutch International
Actors: Anson Mount, Abbie Cornish, Anthony Hopkins, David Morse, Eddie Marsan, Richard Brake, Diora Baird, Chris Perfetti
Director-producer: Nick Stagliano
Screenwriter: James Wolf
Executive Producers: Fred Fuchs, Nancy Stagliano, Anson Mount, Steve Hays, Peter Graham, Chris Bongiorne, Jason Moring, Mark Padilla, Stanley Preschutti
Director of Photography: Frank Prinzi
Production Designer: Norm Dodge
Costume designer: Rita Squitiere
Editor: James LeSage
Music: Brooke Blair, Will Blair
Casting directors: Stephanie Holbrook, Diane Heery, Jason Loftus
R-rated, 110 minutes
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