‘The Virtuoso’ movie review: Anthony Hopkins elevates stylish hitman thriller

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Anson Mount is a mysterious man on a mysterious mission in The Virtuoso, a tired and overly-familiar hitman movie nearly saved by some slick filmmaking and charismatic performances. There’s nothing new here, but this competent production is a fun little ride as long as expectations are low.

Mount is a Man with No Name who calls himself The Virtuoso during lengthy opening narration that details the usual hitman stuff – living off the grid, communication by private mailbox service, etc. – before being thankfully abandoned the further we get into the movie.

Anthony Hopkins has the throwaway role of The Mentor, our killer’s only contact with the outside world. Outside of a couple scenes at the beginning of The Virtuoso, Hopkins has precious little to do here; his scenes, shot at two or three locations, feel as if they were written into the film when somebody discovered they could hire Anthony Hopkins for a weekend.

But Hopkins, who just won an Oscar for The Father, gives this cut-rate B movie the same first-rate treatment. A ten-minute monologue where his character recounts Vietnam War atrocities is one of The Virtuoso‘s two standout moments.

The other standout moment is the chemistry generated between Mount’s hitman and Abbie Cornish as a small-town waitress. Both stars ooze charisma, and after making googly-eyes at each other for the first two acts, a steamy climactic scene between the pair really pays off.

Mount’s hitman is in dullsville after receiving an assignment from Hopkins’ Mentor that contains an address, a time, and a single phrase: “white rivers.” Who or what this refers to we have no idea, but it seems to be The Virtuoso’s target.

So he asks around: there’s Cornish’s waitress; a loner played by Eddie Marsan; a local deputy played by David Morse; and Handsome Johnnie (Richard Brake) and his girlfriend (Diora Baird).

You can probably guess where The Virtuoso is going. But instead of turning into a Hateful Eight-like chamber thriller set in the diner, Mount’s character books a room for the night at the town’s only inn and tracks down his potential targets one-by-one.

This leads to some generic but well-staged scenes, though the supporting cast, like Hopkins, has disappointingly little to do; Marsan shares only a brief dialogue with The Virtuoso, and Brake utters a couple lines in a quick flashback.

As familiar as these scenes are, however, they’re staged with surprising flair; a lengthy rural home break-in, in particular, is quite wonderfully shot and choreographed, and has a great sense of atmosphere and feel for the location.

The Virtuoso was directed by Nick Stagliano, and marks his first film in a decade. His first-rate handling of the material, bolstered by a strong cast and fine eye for detail, are nearly enough to overcome deficiencies in the script he co-authored with James C. Wolf.

But like the John Wick movies, The Virtuoso leans too heavily into the mythical world of hitmen and hired assassins, and ultimately severs any ties with reality that might allow us to get involved with the story. The Wick movies made up for this with their incredible fight scenes, but The Virtuoso lacks that kind of ambition.

Still, The Virtuoso is a competently-made production worth catching for the performances by Mount and Cornish, who are both so charismatic you wish they had better material to work with. And Hopkins, whose ten-minute monologue here could be spliced into an awards-season drama without blinking an eye.

The Virtuoso

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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