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The Virtuoso

**

by Matt Anderson

published April 28, 2021

Given it’s a story about people whose profession requires the planning of every painstaking detail, The Virtuoso is a strikingly sloppy production.

The Pocono Peregrine

I slapped the palm of my right hand against my forehead with such force, I let out an audible groan of self-inflicted misery.

In short, The Virtuoso is about assassins, much like The Rhythm Section, The Accountant, The Professional and so many other movies that use euphemistic nomenclature to describe sharpshooters and their activities.

Maybe this one could be described as involving a couple assassins with a heart, but that’s stretching it a bit. There’s The Mentor (Anthony Hopkins in a comedown performance following his recent Oscar win for The Father) and there’s The Pupil, played by Anson Mount (TV’s Star Trek: Discovery). Well, technically, The Pupil is the titular Virtuoso, but he’s really not that good.

Things start off rough for The Pupil. He should’ve listened to his own voiceover: “do not rush, do not hesitate, do not get distracted, do not question.” A mission goes sideways, leaving an innocent civilian — playing on a sidewalk with her son — charred to a crisp in an unexpected explosion. The Mentor subsequently schools The Pupil with a lengthy wartime story involving the loss of many innocent lives; for some, the imagery never escapes them and ultimately ruins them. Fortunately for The Mentor and The Pupil’s father, that wasn’t the case. They went on with their lives.

Alas, The Pupil’s a little soft and the mental playback of watching the woman burn is seared in his psyche.

That leads The Mentor to offer The Pupil a new mission, a way to get back on the horse, as it were. The Pupil takes it — with his incessant voiceover oftentimes stating the obvious and always destroying what could otherwise have been a disorienting sense of mystery.

The Wide Margin

The notably humorless tone was off-putting, but laughter and murder are strange bedfellows.

This is a movie that seems hellbent on working against itself. Start with that grating voiceover. It could’ve been used as a throughway to set the stage, but instead it’s ongoing throughout the movie. Unfortunately for Mount’s deadpan, documentarian delivery, it’s so generic and so bereft of any sense of passion or personality — aside from his sounding a lot like Rod Serling — it’s a nagging question as to why it’s even there. The tone it sets only serves to push The Virtuoso into a vibe that feels like a blend of Twin Peaks and The Mechanic.

During 2021’s Oscars, made all the quirkier with questionable changes not all of which were pandemic related, Harrison Ford presented the award for editing. He opened his bit with some studio feedback about Blade Runner, and the voiceover was one of the items that met with Ford’s endless disdain. He hated it. He never wanted it in the movie. Subsequent cuts excised it to a rapturous response.

Writers James Wolf and Nick Stagliano, who’ve previously collaborated on Good Day for It, should’ve heeded Ford’s advice. The voiceover here is quite possibly even more damaging to the viewing experience.

Do audiences really need to hear Mount utter junk dialogue like, “You have a hard and fast rule. Eat when you can. You don’t know when the chance will come up again.” There’s also this no-brainer, “If this is the real Deputy Myers, then who’s in the house?” Good gravy, dude. Unnecessary dialogue like that undermines the ambiguity with which the production seemingly wants to tease audiences and it hardly mimics the more character-driven voiceovers of yore.

Wolf and Stagliano (who also directed this misfire) seem fixated on trying to bring the hardboiled detective tropes of the 1940s into the new millennium, but it’s a slavish effort that doesn’t pay off.

And that is, ultimately, a shame because there’s a pretty good twist to be had at the end. Pretty good, were it not for the terrible execution. Therein lies the irony of it all.

The Woman in the Café

Finally, I succumbed. The headache from the faceplant gave way to a raucous chortle fueled by pure incredulity.

Everything these assassins do is supposed to be so intricately planned and staged, and yet the movie time and again fails the audience.

Start with the handwritten note The Mentor hands The Pupil. In one scene, The Pupil studies the note (there are only a half-dozen or so words) and then throws it into the fireplace. Mere frames exist between his reading the note and the shot of the note burning. It’s clearly not the same note. A sloppy continuity gaff.

But there are others.

There’s a ridiculously conspicuous passport poking out of a woman’s purse, with the ID page so inexplicably in view. Okay, that’s just junk storytelling. But even the passport itself has problems. It’s a passport issued on 26 Feb 2022 and expiring on 27 Feb 2032. For one, good to know The Virtuoso takes place in the near future, although that changes nothing. But no passport issued on the 26th of a month will expire on the 27th. It doesn’t work that way.

And, in the category of spellcheck, the end credits list a bunch of products, including “Sauve Men.” Sure, The Pupil is one suave due — his immaculately trimmed and elegantly graying beard reeks of suave. But Sauve? Not so much.

Getting back to that passport, it all ties into the big reveal of the mystery driving The Pupil: what is the significance of White Rivers?

Were it handled properly and with skill, the ending could’ve drawn gasps and a tremendous sense of dread. Instead, the ham-handedness of it all, so incongruous with the precision of the lead characters’ method of earning an income, makes it laughable. Unfortunately, regrettably laughable.