Greetings again from the darkness. It seems to this casual observer that once a person makes the career decision to become a hitman (or hitwoman or hitperson), their life expectancy drops significantly, as does their willingness to trust any person they meet, or at least it should. After all, the industry of killing is all about death … it’s simply a matter of whether (this time) you are the one doing the killing, or the one being killed. This neo-noir comes courtesy of writer-director Nick Stagliano (his first feature film in 10 years) and co-writer James C Wolf.
Anson Mount (so good in the “Hell on Wheels” TV series) is the titular Virtuoso. In typical noir fashion, he’s also our narrator, and serves up a detailed explanation of his approach to the profession. He’s methodical and meticulous in his precision and planning, and goes about his business in a professional manner, while maintaining a low profile and adhering to his own code. He even practices his facial expressions in the mirror preparing for the rare social interaction (it’s funnier than it sounds). He does jobs for The Mentor (newly crowned Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins), a former military friend of his dad. Their minimal communication usually involves a name on a scrap of paper. The first job we witness is a “rush” job and collateral damage leaves Virtuoso burdened with guilt – something that is not an asset in this line of work.
It’s the second job that takes up most of the run time. The Mentor provides only “White Rivers” as a hint to the identity of the target, and instructs him to be at the only diner in a place that barely exists as a town. Walking in, he sizes up those in the diner: The Waitress (Abbie Cornish, excellent as Fanny Brawne in BRIGHT STAR, 2009), The Loner (Eddie Marsan, “Ray Donovan”), Handsome Johnnie (Richard Brake), and Johnnie’s Girl (Diora Baird). A bit later, the local Deputy (David Morse) is added to the list of possible targets.
The set-up is fun, and meant to keep us striving to stay one step ahead. Chris Perfetti adds a touch of humor in his two quick scenes as the motel desk clerk, and much of the tete a tete comes courtesy of the Virtuoso and The Waitress. Of course as with most noirs, we viewers figure out what’s going on long before the hero, as the distractions are many. The budding romance offers up some seedy motel lovemaking, and the Virtuoso has an unusual living arrangement in his cabin in the woods. In other words, there are some excellent elements in play here, and it’s difficult to pinpoint why the film doesn’t play a bit better than it does. Mostly it just lacks the suspense delivered by the best in the genre.
Streaming on Digital, On Demand & Limited Theatrical Release on April 30th in Dallas