The 83 year old, Sir Anthony Hopkins just took home his second Academy Award as Best Lead Actor for his excellent work in “The Father”. The acting legend is following up his Oscar win with “The Virtuoso”, a low budget straight to video suspense offering that probably had most the films budget to hire Hopkins, who only appears for a few minutes. But remember his role in “The Silence Of The Lambs”? That too was also only a few minutes of screen time and yet he went home with an Oscar for his performance. Well ok, while he certainly won’t be receiving a third Oscar for his role as a Hitman’s boss in the straight to video release. Although Hopkins can make the screenplays generic dialogue sound like Shakespeare.
The film really belongs to Anson Mount (“Hell’s On Wheels”), who portrays a steely assassin that goes by the name of (insert title here) “The Virtuoso”. He is that kind of assassin with a particular set of skills who is in a battle with not only an assortment of baddies, but also his conscience as he tries to complete his latest assignment. “The Virtuoso” had his newest assignment all planned out, as he was prepared to shoot out the tire of his latest target. But two civilians, a mother and her son got in the way and the mother ended up perishing after the car blew up, causing her death to start and haunt the trained assassin.
He simply can’t shake the torment even when he retreats to the solace of his hidden cabin in the woods. So distraught, he ignores the phone calls from his boss (Anthony Hopkins), but the assassin is tracked down and talked into giving one last big job. His assignment is to take out someone named “White Rivers” within a small town. The hitman arrives in town and cases the diner where he’s told his mark will be, but everyone in the diner all seem rather suspicious. There’s the sweet and beautiful waitress (Abbie Cornish), a shifty loner (Eddie Marsden), an odd couple (Richard Brake, Diora Baird) and the town’s deputy (David Morse) who ruins the hitman’s plans at an opportunity to strike.
This is where the film becomes it’s most intriguing as the assassin and the audience, must put the pieces together to figure out who is “White River”? He starts an investigation by breaking into motel rooms, navigate icy roads and resist the come ons from the beautiful waitress who finds an attraction to him. The supporting cast is quite remarkable, but it’s a shame that Eddie Marsan, Richard Brake and David Morse aren’t given more. Abbie Cornish is a stunning beauty and she reminds me why I’ve always adored her. While leading man, Anson Mount has that George Clooney GQ sex appeal. Something that director and co-writer Nick Stagliano, pays tribute to as the George Clooney 2010 assassin film “The American”, is clearly an inspiration for his film.
“The Virtuoso” exists almost entirely inside the head of our main character. He maintains a running monologue and voice over throughout the entire feature, which gets annoying very quickly. Stagliano’s intention is for the hitman to talk about discipline, code and explain his approach to his work, which is usually cold and calculating. He maintains exact control over his weaponry and position, working with years of experience to perfect his hits. Stagliano shoots the film like the hitman himself in a methodically, carefully and quiet approach. He lets the natural tension build in each scene by never rushing and never exaggerating the violence. Stagliano’s approach is subtle, straightforward work and he can even make the clichéd and genre tropes watchable.
“The Virtuoso” doesn’t explode with violent activity, because it seems that screenwriter James C. Wolf doesn’t have much of an imagination for this type of entertainment. But give Wolf credit for actually fleshing out his main character and telling us a coherent story with ideas on trauma and relationships. “The Virtuoso” does something that a lot of straight to video films don’t have…a payoff that works and were left to ponder and question some of the characters decisions as the final credits roll. Something that I can’t dwell on as it will give away the films secrets.
“The Virtuoso” is small in scale and writer James C. Wolf, creates a few decent puzzles to decode along the way to make this a decently solid, smart, efficient effort that isn’t always predictable. There are dozens of disposable straight to video actioners that crowd the racks at Wal Mart every month, with most of them just half hearted efforts starring reliable names that barely get by in pleasing audiences. From time to time, you’ll find a few pleasant surprises and Nick Stagliano’s thriller, “The Virtuoso” is one of those pleasant surprises.
GRADE: ★★1/2☆☆☆ (2.5 out of 5)