The Virtuoso is a strange movie, and from the start, we can easily gather why that is. The characters have not been afforded any names, credited only under monikers like “The Mentor” or “The Waitress” or the eponymous one, which refers to the hitman at the center of the story of James C. Wolf’s screenplay. This decision, of course, divorces the film from even the hint of humanity that might connect us to the characters. It isn’t inherently the wrong decision, considering the details of the story that follows the deliberately constructed opening sequence, but considering that Wolf only moves forward with the characters’ broad types, it does strike one as a generic thriller right from the outset.

This hitman is played by Anson Mount in a performance that is unconvincing in two ways. First, the actor is never emotive on his own nor generous with his costars, each of whom seems to regard him with a degree of bemusement. Second, the character narrates nearly every beat of his own story. This narration is utterly useless, bringing to mind the worst characteristics of a gimmicky plot device, but the astonishing thing about it is how Mount speaks the words with all the gravitas and exactly the tone of an ultra-serious men’s fragrance advertisement. The result is unintentionally hilarious, on top of the fact that the sole purpose of the gimmick this time is to tell us what we’re watching.

The hitman works for a crime boss (played by Anthony Hopkins in full-on “phone it in and cash the check” mode) who delivers assignments in code on paper. We open on such an assignment, in which the hitman breaks up a lovers’ tryst by shooting his target in exactly the spot you’d expect — if this were not meant to be discreet tradecraft. His second one, which is supposed to look like an accident, goes horribly awry when the target crashes into a recreational vehicle and the resulting explosion sets an innocent woman on fire, killing her. Collateral damage is part of the job, says his boss, who also weaves a horrifying tale of moral corruption during his time in a far-off war as casually as possible.

The hitman is given no choice but to take on a new job, which takes him to a diner where the rest of the ensemble has gathered. There is David Morse as the local sheriff deputy, Abbie Cornish as the kindly waitress, Richard Brake and Diora Baird as a quarreling couple and Eddie Marsan as a mysterious figure in a coat who seems quite suspect. It doesn’t take long for the hitman (or us) to figure out that nothing about this job or these characters is as it seems. It’s really a waiting game, as the hitman and the waitress strike up a tryst of their own, the sheriff deputy either follows the hints regarding some vague mystery or reveals his true nature, and everyone here comes into the crosshairs of the hitman and/or his boss and/or the real villain.

It is extraordinarily difficult to follow this inane story, full of predictable right and left turns and an extended flashback from another character’s perspective, toward its inevitable conclusion and the promise of a prospective sequel. There is little excitement even on the simple level of a sleek action thriller (directed with little panache by Nick Stagliano). That promise feels more like a threat as The Virtuoso goes on, revealing itself to be a morally and ethically ugly exploration of a violent and futile world in which there are no good people and the only virtue is self-preservation. Here is a movie that makes its own rules, then eats itself.

It is extraordinarily difficult to follow this inane story toward its inevitable conclusion and the promise of a prospective sequel.
20 %
No Soul, No Thrills
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