The Italian term “virtuoso” defines an individual who possesses outstanding talent and technical ability in a particular field. It originated in the 16th and 17th centuries and was mainly used to address skillful artists, primarily musicians. The term eventually evolved with time, and broadened its scope to whoever excels in his or her profession.
In Nick Stagliano’s American thriller, The Virtuoso in question is a professional assassin who guides us throughout his job, with a monotone voice; almost as if it were providing a guidebook on how to become the perfect manslayer.
Treachery, danger, and murder are the themes that perspire in the film, as we get acquainted with the professional assassin (Anson Mount), who accepts a new assignment from his enigmatic mentor and boss (Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins). Deceit reaches its peak when the hitman follows a cryptic clue all the way to a a sleepy country town. The only information he is provided is a time and location where to find his quarry. When he arrives there are several possible targets, including the county sheriff. Meanwhile, a chance encounter with an alluring woman (Abbie Cornish) at the town’s rustic diner threatens to derail his mission.
The leaden cinematography, conveyed by Frank Prinzi, sets the tone of the noir-style cloak-and-dagger thriller. Nick Stagliano like a music conductor directs his actors in a spectacular cacophony of blood and deception. Sir Anthony Hopkins never ceases to display his versatility. In his most recent work The Father he played an elderly man struggling with dementia, whereas here he embodies the ruthless mobster who gives the call giving instructions for who needs to be murdered. Anson Mount is impeccable in conveying to his character the impassible and sphinx-like flair; and adding an undertone of his unfathomable sense of guilt, caused by the collateral damage of his profession. Whilst, Abby Cornish, plays the sweet and wholesome waitress, with a mystifying woebegone allure. Also the rest of the cast is impressive in nurturing the eerie atmosphere of double-dealing: Eddie Marsan, David Morse, Richard Brake, Diora Baird.
But the true protagonist of The Virtuoso, is chicanery. Nothing is as it seems, and as a character will later say: “you see what you want to see.” This action thriller, leads to philosophical questions, regarding the way we perceive our surrounding reality. And the characters in the film experience this existential struggle because their energy and abilities impact on their perspective.
At the end of the day, who wins this merciless Darwinian manslaughter, and proves to be the real virtuoso, is the one who manages not to get emotionally attached to any kind of being. And the film doesn’t cease to convey this message until the very end. In fact, Nick Stagliano’s The Virtuoso ultimately seems to echo a passage from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War that says: “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” Or as The Mentor tells his Virtuoso: “we are just homicidal killing machines.”
Final Grade: C