The Virtuoso is one of those movies so mind-bogglingly misguided that it’s difficult to discern whether the talented actors involved willingly grabbed a quick paycheck or if they mistook the material for something worthwhile. Caught somewhere between isolated character study and brooding shoot-‘em-up thriller but without a single clue how to actualize either perspective, the film is an endless string of inert stand-off sequences, most of which lead absolutely nowhere. The only connective tissue is a literal shred of a plot and narration so incessant and overexplanatory that the drone lulls us into a sort-of unconscious state, in which we stop paying to attention to both the narration and the on-screen action, just waiting on the film to end.
It takes…a while to get to that merciful ending, since the screenplay is so preoccupied with circling the same narrated perspective of its central anti-hero that it’s a master class in wheel-spinning. That anti-hero is a nameless contract killer dealing with extreme guilt while on an exceptionally ill-defined mission. The character is played by Anson Mount, who has previously played charming characters, but here the directive seems to have been to strip away any engaging qualities, presenting himself as a hitman whose most lethal weapon is the projection of abject boredom. In theory, this character is suffering from the post-traumatic stress of killing innocents during his most recent job, though you wouldn’t know it to look at him, since he’s a blank slate. You wouldn’t know it to listen to him, either, since he barely speaks a word. That is, unless he’s in Narrator Mode, in which case he never shuts up, jabbering away endlessly about every single element of his standard operating procedure while the accompanying actions are being depicted on screen, so the narration is less a valuable insight into the character and more an instructional video.
Amid the endless verbal scrawl, the nameless protagonist goes in search of a rogue rival hitman, given only the time and location at which this mystery mark will be present. The cryptic information is given to him by his supposed boss, listed in the credits as “The Mentor.” Anthony Hopkins plays The Mentor, in a role that seems to have been filmed in a single day, opposite mostly – if not entirely – stand-ins. This film’s release in the midst of Hopkins’ Oscar campaign will not, mercifully, have an Eddie-Murphy-in-Norbit effect on his chances, since this isn’t a high-profile release in which Hopkins plays multiple roles while caked in make-up. In fact, he’s barely in the film at all after his initial scene, in which he delivers a nearly unbroken seven-minute monologue, as if he’s on stage delivering a soliloquy. Of course, if you cast someone of Hopkins’ pedigree, you might as well get your money’s worth, plus it gives us a reprieve from the narration for a while, so there’s that.
The key takeaway from Sir Anthony’s dramatic monologue is that a “good soldier” doesn’t plague himself with lingering thoughts of collateral damage. Now, the logical thematic extension of that would be for our protagonist to set out to prove he can be that ruthless, heartless contract killer, and that war with his natural instincts would be the film’s dramatic focus. But none of that seems top of mind in The Virtuoso, which consumes itself with the bland “Who am I supposed to kill?” mystery. The potential marks include the likes of Abbie Cornish, David Morse, and Eddie Marsan, wonderful character actors all, who are entirely wasted in hastily edited throwaway roles, which may ultimately solve my initial quandary. Maybe The Virtuoso was just a paycheck project for these performers, and in the fraught production environment throughout this pandemic, who could blame them? They likely forgot about the film as soon as they walked off set, just like I will forget it the moment I finish this sentence.