Nick Stagliano’s new thriller The Virtuoso is marked not by virtuosity but vagueness, a picture so starkly featureless, even its hero (Anson Mount) resembles a cross between Ben Affleck and Tom Cruise in Collateral. The story is equally ill-defined: a troubled hitman is given a cryptic mission by his boss (Anthony Hopkins), where the only clue as to his target are the words “White Rivers”.
The protagonist arrives at a diner and starts snooping around, looking very much like a hitman, forgetting to take off his leather gloves and asking anyone who’ll listen if they know anything about White Rivers. After this line of investigation proves ineffectual, he starts indiscriminately killing people who might be the intended target and sleeps with a local waitress (Abbie Cornish) for good measure.
The Virtuoso tries so hard to be broody and mysterious that it forgets to make its plot even slightly intelligible, and one needn’t be a virtuoso to stitch together a much better movie from its loose threads. Every time it seems that it might do something interesting (at various points it hints at turning into In Bruges, No Country for Old Men and The Hateful Eight), the film draws another blank.
The pretentious script by Stagliano and James C Wolf uses constant second-person narration (“You need to make it look like an accident”) that sounds like a snooze-your-own-adventure story, as well as unnamed characters who are just credited as The Waitress and The Mentor and so on, in another attempt to seem enigmatic without actually devising a coherent mystery.
The minimalist setup could work to the film’s advantage, since there is minor intrigue in the paranoid notion of a thriller without an obvious villain, along with its decidedly pulpy settings. But a hitman flick is all about execution, and The Virtuoso’s is as confusing and nonsensical as its title; an inappropriate name for a movie that has nothing to do with music or the arts – particularly one that isn’t very good.
The Virtuoso is released digitally on demand on 30th April 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Virtuoso here: