By James Kenney
What’s up with all these assassins? I don’t care about assassins, do you? Their angst? Their frustration when their plans go awry because they somehow have started having human feeling against their will? Don’t get me wrong, there were a few solid films to explore this theme in the past (Grosse Point Blank, The Professional) but, man, they keep churning this stuff out. I get that action sells, but what happened to normal people getting caught up in extraordinary situations? Watching sociopathic a**holes having spasms of consciousness or falling in love or being betrayed really doesn’t excite me anymore.
While I’m at it, neither does professionals laying out all their anal-retentive rules about how things work in their business, like Jason Statham does in the Transporter, because it doesn’t impress me, it’s just ludicrous (“exactly 27 seconds after you kill someone, the witness will call the police, but will dial the wrong number, giving you an extra 52 seconds to escape through the second story window where a bird will land on the adjacent fire escape at the very moment you exit to distract the man selling hot dogs on the street below,” etc…)
Nor am I thrilled by CGI blood-splatter. It’s like using crayons, man, I don’t feel a thing seeing some guy whip his head back so later on some vitamin-deficient CGI jack-ass can create computer spray to splat on the wall behind him.
If I sound grumpy, it’s because I get all this crap in the first five minutes of Nick Stagliano’s The Virtuoso, before I even lay eyes on Anthony Hopkins, who’s in the damn think, ostensibly, though really it’s an extended cameo. For the majority of The Virtuoso I’m stuck in the company of Ansom Mount (!), who I never heard of, so I assume he’s just another Game of Thrones orphan, lots of straight to video stuff features guys and gals I never heard of who turn out to have been regulars at some point on that stupid show, which I never watched. (Turns out he was a regular on Hell on Wheels, which I know even less about, but if that show is your jam, well here’s your guy).
Anyway, this guy is so satisfied with his anal-retentive ability to lay out a job to the second he calls himself a virtuoso right before the film’s title splays across the screen and I guess we’re supposed to go “Ahhh” but I just paused my Blu-Ray because my wife started yelling at me about something from an adjacent room. I don’t usually enjoy arguing but after five minutes of The Virtuoso I decided to let her lay into me, it figured to be more enjoyable than hearing how much pepper this guy puts into his omelets or whatever the second scene would bring us.
Anthony Hopkins does shows up as “The Virtuoso”’s handler, called “The Mentor” (yeah, the film is kind of self-serious) and unpromisingly his first scene involves him sitting in a dark office with sunglasses on, best to read lines off of cue cards or get them fed to him through an earpiece.
I’ve been a big fan of a lot of the straight-to-video stuff released the last decade or so, finding more to chew on when directors work with lower budgets and old-school movie stars than when Hollywood throws money at the latest Peter Berg/Mark Wahlberg collaboration. But considering Hopkins won the Oscar this very year for his (very moving) portrayal of a man suffering from Alzheimer’s, one wishes for a little more effort from one of our greats. We get it in a second scene where he does like a seven-minute near-monologue in a cemetery, so I’m grateful for that, but then of course he largely disappears from the movie after sending our troubled Virtuoso on a bizarre mission where he’s supposed to show up at a diner at a certain time but won’t actually know which of the many people inside he’s supposed to kill (huh?)
Stagliano provides a running commentary where he shows more enthusiasm for what he produced than I can muster. Stagliano’s not incompetent, the film just has a lot of elements that I find tiresome – an uncharismatic lead outshone by better actors such as Hopkins, David Morse and Abbie Cornish, a script that is enigmatic and obvious at the same time, and direction that doesn’t do anything to elevate the material.
Stagliano discusses how in that graveyard scene, Hopkins went on for nine minutes and bits had to be cut, losing some of Hopkins performance.
Should he ever find himself in this position again, keep it all in, I assure you the only reason we showed up was Hopkins (well, I’m a David Morse fan, ever since St. Elsewhere, but you know what I mean). I’d enjoy Hopkins reading the phone book, and that’s pretty much what he does in this extended sequence where he blathers on about guilt and Vietnam and this and that (he, of course, was an associate of the Virtuoso’s father).
So The Virtuoso is very much more of the same, and I for one would not mind if all these cinematic assassins get arrested and have to spend their life in prison for their many misdeeds (this one accidentally sets an innocent mom on fire in front of her son, but we’re supposed to care?). More films about bakers who get caught up in international intrigue and have to use their spatulas as weapons and a mixing bowl as a helmet that bullets ding off of, whatever. NO MORE ASSASSINS!!!
The Virtuoso came out On Demand and on Blu-Ray and DVD this month.