This is real film noir that, even in color, is shot so dark, you can hardly see the characters, let alone any action. Two time Oscar winner, Anthony Hopkins (The Father, Silence of the Lambs) plays a pivotal role but not the lead here. He is called The Mentor who gives cryptic clues to a hit man who calls himself The Virtuoso (Anson Mount). This killer has to figure out who his target is, only knowing that it is one of several possibilities in a small town out in the country. Only one person he encounters has a name. All the others just have labels: The Loner (Eddie Marsan), The Deputy (David Morse), etc.
Nick Stagliano Produced, directed and co-wrote the script with James C. Wolf and it’s understated and underplayed except for Hopkins’ The Mentor. He is strident when giving his marching orders to The Virtuoso and you suspect right away that there may be another agenda. Hopkins gets to deliver one monologue in a cemetery where we learn of the background to their relationship. Especially in that setting, it should have been more compelling.
The story is introduced and told mostly through monotone narration from The Virtuoso, as in old film noir films. He employs a weird reference to himself as “You.” This film noir technique is usually told by the detective trying to solve a crime as opposed to this case, where the hit man is attempting to figure out who to kill. The is just another example where the script misses the mark.
The opening scene is a man and a woman in bed having sex when The Virtuoso cooly shoots through a window across from their room, hitting his target twice. Might as well get blood and sex out there from the get go. He reports deed done to his Mentor.
The hitman has no back story other than that he’s been working for the mob as an assassin for a very long time. He doesn’t seem to be tied emotionally to anybody, living alone in a house in the woods except for his sheep dog who patrols the forest and comes to greet The Virtuoso to get a quick pet and fed.
The Virtuoso works alone and packs his guns and whatever else he thinks he’ll need to carry out the job. The rest of the film relies on The Virtuoso making deliberately slow entrances and exits, sneaking around trying to get bits of information in a series of tête-a-têtes with the individuals he encounters. He talks in very reserved undertones and from then on it’s slow moving and somewhat frustrating trying to follow his M.O. You don’t know if any of the subjects he encounters have anything to do with anything.
When our lead goes to a gas station on the road, he sees a man mistreat the woman he’s with. The Virtuoso tries to intervene, but is told to can it and the couple take off. Our man then sees the woman standing on the side of the road by herself and offers to give her a ride. She rejects the offer saying it will only be worse for her if she accepts from her abusive man. Why are we seeing this?
He continues on to a road side restaurant in a little town where he encounters The Waitress (Abby Cornish). She’s the pretty woman behind the counter who is filling in for her aunt who had to go to a funeral. She is cute and very friendly. Right away, we suspect she might be a ringer, and the director gives just enough hesitation in their attempt at a conversation that maybe this is a setup.
Everyone and everything seems suspect. What’s with all this chit chat? She seems to be interested in helping him as he asks her a few questions about the other people in the restaurant. Stagliano makes it look like The Virtuoso is building a file in his head.
The Virtuoso and The Waitress take some kind of interest in each other. Who is trying to help who. Will this flirtation lead him astray? Of course, the plot thickens when The Virtuoso starts hitting possible targets. The Mentor gets involved and there are some changes in plan that result in dead bodies.
Some twists and turns might keep you somewhat interested. But the lighting and cinematography barely shows images of whatever you’re supposed to be looking at for clues. Inside or outside, it’s all so dark, frustrating and slow. It takes too long to get there, wherever that is.
This is not Anthony Hopkins finest film and it’s ironic that it comes out the same week he wins the Oscar for The Father. It’s a good thing Anthony Hopkins is in this film or it might not get any attention at all. It’s so dark both visually and on the page that we never come to care about these characters. The Virtuoso may be able to shoot straight, but this movie doesn’t.
Lionsgate 1 hour 50 minutes R
In select theaters and streaming on Demand
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