Review: 'The Virtuoso' (2021) Dir. Nick Stagliano
Updated: May 1
The dark and dangerous world of a professional hitman is explored in this original story by co-writer and director Nick Stagliano who keeps action minimal but tension high...
A lone hitman (Mount) is tasked by an older mentor (Hopkins) in a number of assignments for a number of high profile clients. When his last mission is successful, but deals collateral damage, his confidence is rocked.
The hitman is given his next job and a handful of information; a code name, a time and a location. But with a number of faces who may well be the target, the hitman must use all his skill to find just who needs to be taken down.
Meeting a number of faces across the way including a waitress (Cornish), a local sheriff (Morse) and a loner (Mason), the hitman will find he needs to keep one step ahead if he is to succeed, prove he has what it takes to get the job done and not end up dead in the process...
Star Trek: Discovery star Anson Mount's gravel-voiced professional sniper immediately set the tone for this thriller - a dark, engrossing and shocking opening 10 minutes tells you everything you need to know about this man. This hitman. This Virtuoso. It's like an opening to your favourite video game; the slow pace, dark lighting, steady framing and soothing voice-over telling you about why you're the best, why you follow rules and what you do to get the job done. Mount's voice-over carries you along the whole story, and you can't help but get sucked into the man and his work.
After a mission takes a less than perfect turn for the worst, our Virtuoso starts to show a teeny tiny crack in his armour. But our salt-and-pepper haired loner dressed in black and dotted with stubble wastes no time in taking on his next assignment; one that doesn't specifically name the target but only gives a date, time and location. So it's going to be a task that requires all his skill, illegal contacts and investigative reasoning. Even in the most innocent of locations, we cut with his eyes to see that he's scoping out potential weapons, exits and cover spots. Yet again, something we've all done in the best video games out there wanting to take our time on a mission and not blow it.
Abbie Cornish is The Waitress who latches onto Mount from two chance meetings, and immediately his warning signs are on amber. Yet her confident, sweet-smiling roadside chef simply wants to talk, explore some of the stranger's mystery and feel alive for a night. She worms her way into some of the hidden humanity he keeps bottled up, but defenses are never down and you never really know if she's his target or not.
It's a character study and dark thriller away from just the exception a shoot'em up from the start. It's investigative work for both the Virtuoso and the audience during this assignment.
In a role akin to that of Commander Swanbeck from Mission: Impossible 2, laying out the mission with an air of cool, calculated expertise and experience, Sir Anthony Hopkins (fresh from his award winning turn in The Father) is The Mentor. He's the middle-man between his Virtuoso and the clients wanting dark deeds done for a price, sat in the shadows of his office with a whiskey on his desk and a loaded pistol in it.
Not confining his Mentor to what you may expect as a small cameo, Hopkins reminds us of his magnetism on screen as an actor with his ability to keep you hooked with words, evident in an opening 4 minute monologue about the horror of war set in a cemetery. He channels the unpredictability of Hannibal Lecter and the unwavering authority of William Bligh in just his voice when faced with Mount; you can never tell what side of the line between good and bad he his on.
But this isn't an all-out action film. It's a slow paced and steady exploration of a professional hitman who makes sure his work is carried out like art. It's nothing but authentic in pace and style where we take time with the Virtuoso to meet all the potential targets, seeking the best way to whittle them down and eventually root out "the one". This could be simply watching their movements in a small-town diner, or lacing their drink with Viagra to bring on a heart-attack in order to draw out information. Detail is key, even down to a sequence we all dread - when a hit goes wrong, and it's left to sloppy hand to hand, noisy combat and shooting to get the job done attracting the attention of the law.
Director Nick Stagliano (of Nazz Productions Inc production company) goes for no frills and no Hollywood excess in this story. He knows the keep the cast minimal, the characters complex and unreadable and the atmosphere as brooding as he can in order to make everything as real as he can. It's all practical action and practical effects from the start, with some gorgeous locations across California and Pennsylvania used.
Accompanied by a chilling, atmospheric score by brothers Brooke and Will Blair, the world of the hitman has not been brought to screen as authentically as this in recent memory without being all bangs, explosions and CGI action.
Written by James C. Wolf and Stagliano, this is the best non-official Hitman franchise adaptation we've ever had with a delightful twist you may or may not have seen coming. Just like the sniper's bullet to your forehead.
'The Virtuoso' is a smart and tense thriller that puts you right into the heart of what it means to be a hitman, with a solid cast and production to bring it to life.
The Virtuoso is on Digital Download 30 April and DVD 10 May from Lionsgate
Amazon DVD: https://amzn.to/31yc95q