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  Virtuoso, The Calling This A Hit
Year: 2021
Director: Nick Stagliano
Stars: Anson Mount, Abbie Cornish, Anthony Hopkins, David Morse, Eddie Marsan, Richard Brake, Diora Baird, Chris Perfetti, Shay Guthrie, Ryan Jonze, Jenna Hellmuth, Blaise Corrigan, Lory Molino, Estelle Girard Parks, Basil Kershner
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: He calls himself The Virtuoso (Anson Mount), a professional hitman who guarantees clean kills with no fuss, and if the murder needs to look like an accident, he can do that as well. Tonight he performs a job on a man who is having sex and is foolish enough to leave the hotel room blinds up, giving the killer a clear shot, and plenty of time to get away, but he is well-paid and doesn't like to let down his clients, who contact him through a private mail service and a PO box. That said, he does have a contact who he can meet in the flesh, The Mentor (Anthony Hopkins) who taught him all he knows, worked with his father in the Army, and has one tricky hit for him to carry out...

This was a film that came across as the product of some filmmakers who had seen too many Jean-Pierre Melville movies, and had decided to manufacture their own variation; maybe they were big fans of pictures like The Mechanic with Charles Bronson as well, but essentially any neo-noir that patterned itself after Alan Ladd in This Gun for Hire back in the first flush of the genre was fair game for the talents seeking to cash in on a spot of nostalgia. They had been all over nineties cinema after John Woo became the go-to guy for hitman updates, but to be fair this was far more reserved than anything in his canon, more of a dramatic thriller cum mystery than an action flick.

Mount was well cast, aside from probably being too handsome and self-possessed to pass as anonymous in the way this profession might exploit, but for the role of a man who we know very little about and don't learn very much more at the conclusion of the story, he held a certain cool, not quite Alain Delon, but for the cut price version, he was more than satisfactory. What Hopkins was doing in this was another mystery, though he may have been attracted by the monologue his character gets to speak where he reminisces about slaughtering Vietnamese civilians, a nasty bit that fed into the antihero's callous regard for his victims, yet also a flicker of conscience that is catching fire.

Literally, because he accidentally set a young mother ablaze when his most recent hit went awry and "collateral damage" was the result, something so horrible that even this trained assassin finds it haunting his thoughts. Therefore to take his mind off this as he sits and stews in his cabin in the woods, and since a local stray dog that regularly shows up for treats is not cutting the mustard when it comes to sufficiently distracting him, he accepts this new job, though there is, naturally, a catch. This is the problem that he only has one clue as to who his target is, no photograph, no name, just the codewords "White Rivers" and a diner location to be at, where he will presumably be able to work out which of the patrons is the person who someone wants dead. On the way there, he encounters a woman (Abbie Cornish) at a gas station who turns out to be the waitress at said diner.

She offers him some clues as to which of the patrons is the mark, but it remains pretty vague, since she would not recognise any of them anyway, and the deputy (David Morse) who enters does not seem to be all that familiar either. Hence the hitman has to trace them all as they leave, and eventually discern if he has to kill them all (!) to be sure - one of them was played by Eddie Marsan, whose relatively brief appearance could be a red herring, but might not be. Though there was a constant danger of this dragging as it indulged itself in languorous pacing and moody lighting, it was actually quite pleasing to watch a thriller that unhurriedly took its time and allowed you to bask in an atmosphere that was very well pitched. Many would find its lack of incident (except where it counted) to its detriment, but if you were happy to watch Delon mooch about the streets of seventies Paris then you would be more than satisfied at this facsimile, it was presented with care and was, despite the supposed tension, a film to relax into, with deceptively effective performances. Not for everyone, but if you liked it noir, easily recommended. Music by Brooke Blair and Will Blair.

[The Virtuoso is on Digital Download 30 April and DVD 10 May 2021 from Lionsgate.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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