My wife and I had two arguments during this movie. The first one was as the movie started and the assassin protagonist narrated how he plies his trade. It’s a dead-pan monotone voice, and she was saying how ridiculous it was. I argued it wasn’t so bad. She continued her tirade with, “It sounds like those motivational tapes John C. Reily listened to, in that one movie.”
“Oh yeah, The Promotion. You’re right. It also reminds me a bit of the narrator in the brilliant dark comedy Little Children (Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson).”
Yet I conceded her the win, when the narration…Just. Wouldn’t. Stop. What made it worse is that he wasn’t saying anything all that interesting. In fact, he used the word “precision” three times in explaining what he did. Also, I heard some of this before (for example, as Pierce Brosnan’s assassin character explained his trade to Greg Kinnear in the underrated The Matador).
The other argument we had was if this was going to be the worst movie of the year. I insist it will be. She thinks the Morgan Freeman movie (Vanquish) we saw a few weeks ago was worse. Not only is my wife wrong about this, but The Virtuoso might be on my list of one of the worst movies ever made. It’s that bad.
At least a few times during this I asked her who this actor was (Anson Mount). He’s strikingly handsome, and when I said that to my wife she said, “Yeah, well…you’d still have to listen to that annoying voice. And is he incapable of acting?”
I laughed and explained, “I don’t think he’d always sound like that. The writer/director (Nick Stagliano) wants him to have this robotic vibe, to show that he’s so professional, nothing flusters him. He doesn’t quickly flee the scene after he shoots his mark, but knows exactly how long it will take the cops to arrive, and who will be busy calling the landlord. So he can slowly strut to his car and drive off without arousing suspicion.”
I was wondering why the first person he shoots, is having sex in a hotel, and they have the curtains open so the hitman can see them. Did they not realize others could probably see them? But that’s the least of the flaws. The bigger flaw is that this hitman tells us nothing throws him off his game, and then…he continues to mess up. Especially when he meets a waitress at a diner. She’s played by Abbie Cornish, and I have a few problems with that. First, I’ve never been a fan of her acting (although her acting in this was fine). And, while I was disgusted by the idiots that claimed Carey Mulligan wasn’t pretty enough for Promising Young Woman (because she looked great, and I felt her performance was the best of the year, and I voted for her in the Critics’ Choice Awards, which she won)…I find myself thinking that Cornish just wasn’t attractive enough for this part. It should have been someone so hot that it totally throws this guy off his game. Instead, their interactions with each other are utterly ridiculous on every level.
There’s a scene where the assassin practices his smile in the mirror. That made no sense. Is he so stoic and cold that he just can’t naturally smile in situations where a courtesy smile presents itself? Also, I’ve seen this move done in a few movies the last few years (the Vince Vaughn slasher comedy Freaky is the most recent one that comes to mind).
There’s a stray dog that the assassin feeds, in his cabin off the grid, out in the woods. Perhaps this guy does have a heart, and is a loner looking for someone to love.
His mentor is played by Anthony Hopkins. I voted for him to win the Critics’ Choice Awards for The Father, and he didn’t win that (but got the Oscar); if the Academy members see this film, they might take it back. It’s not that his performance is that bad. But, in the few days they probably paid him to film all his scenes, you’d think he’d ask why he just has to sit by the phone, contemplating whether his assassin will do the job. It’s like he’s Charlie in Charlie’s Angels, or the guy in Mission: Impossible, handing a cryptic note with very few details, on who the next mark is.
We do get a scene at a graveyard, where Hopkins has to explain how sometimes there’s collateral damage. This involves a story about him serving in ‘nam with his dad. I never thought I’d miss the Tom Skerritt/Tom Cruise scene from Top Gun (“Yeah, I flew with your old man…”).
A few times I thought of Quentin Tarantino while watching this. One time was when a car crash is supposed to look like a flat tire…but the car hits an RV and causes an explosion that kills an innocent bystander, which haunts the hitman. I’m just trying to figure out how that explosion would have actually happened, much as I tried to figure out why in Django Unchained, someone was shot, and their body went flying in a completely different direction. I also thought of The Hateful Eight, because the director wanted to give us that vibe when the assassin arrives at the diner, and has to figure out who his mark is. He wasn’t given clear details, and each person looks suspicious. This story also borrows from a Twilight Zone episode, as well as The Usual Suspects. And really, if you’re going to borrow from all those great stories, at least make this good.
It was nice to see David Morse show up (he’s in two of my all-time favorite movies — Inside Moves and 12 Monkeys). He’s not given much to do but look like a suspicious sheriff, or perhaps a menacing one, depending on who you think his character might be.
And just when you think the movie can’t get any more stupid, with the decisions various characters make, here comes the narration again. It really never stops. The assassin lets the audience know that nighttime hits are the worst, because there are dogs in backyards. Yeah, well…my stepdad was a mailman for 38 years. He’ll tell you about the daytime, and dogs in the front yards.
The hitman also drones on about this “white rivers” which is something he’s trying to get to the bottom of. Ya know, in films like this where a lot of information isn’t given, I always wonder why…instead of all this secretive stuff with his boss, why not just ask him, “Dude, what do you want to get done here? Who am I looking for? What is ‘White Rivers’? If you can’t answer these questions, I’m not going to go into this blind, just hoping to find the right person. So, if you can get me some more detailed facts, get back to me. If not, this job isn’t for me.”
There are some nude scenes that felt exploitative. One is that opening sex scene. Another involves Cornish (I won’t spoil with which diner at the diner, but it’s the dude that says “hold the onions” when he orders his burger).
Two things I’ve found out about the hitman profession from watching movies like this. One, you can never count on that one last job before you retire. Two, you can never trust your boss. They’ll always want you killed at some point, to tie up loose ends or some such thing. Makes sense.
Because of the goofy second-person narration, any cool, film noir swagger he would have, just makes you think his character is a big goofball (although he does rock that turtleneck).
My late friend Joe Hight used to have these “bad movie nights” where his group of friends would watch a bad movie and make fun of it, often with drinking games. I always thought that was a dumb idea, as you should never waste your time on bad movies. There are too many great movies you haven’t seen that you could watch instead. I wish he was around today, so I could tell him this movie would fit the bill perfectly.
One thing I’m happy about is that this movie reminded me of a movie I saw on HBO when I was 13. It was called Buddy Buddy, and was the last film the great Billy Wilder did in 1981. It was considered a flop, but I loved every second of it (I was young, though). It starred Walter Mathau, Jack Lemmon, and Paula Prentiss. Mathau is a hitman who needs to take out a witness before he can testify. Lemmon, like his character in The Odd Couple, just had his wife leave him and wants to commit suicide in the hotel room next door. This ruins everything, as hilarious hijinks ensue.
Anyway, I’m going to find that movie and see if it holds up. And I’m going to tell everyone to stay away from this horrible flick. It’s the worst movie of the year; perhaps the worst movie ever made.