This gloomy – literally so – thriller is set mostly over the course of one night, starting out with a big wodge of voiceover narration by the film’s unnamed hitman protagonist (Anson Mount), all of it using the second person voice with a cello sawing away in the background. For a minute your hopes are raised that this will be some kind of playful postmodern narrative, along the lines of Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, Robert Coover’s Noir, or even a pleasingly lurid Gen X study such as Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City.
Alas, you are disappointed to learn this mystery story is much less clever than it thinks it is. Perhaps you should have twigged that earlier as the hitman, who considers himself a master of his trade, pretty much screws up every assignment he gets after his initial hit, where he shoots a man in flagrante delicto, splattering his partner with blood in the process. When the hitman complains to his boss – Anthony Hopkins (clearly slumming it before winning his second Oscar, and not even trying to fake the American accent required to play a grizzled Vietnam war vet) – about his feelings of guilt and despair about “collateral damage” (ie innocent people getting killed), you rightly suspect this is evidence that he doesn’t have the best judgment.
At least, you sigh with resignation, the film had the good sense to give the role of a smalltown waitress to the too seldom cast Abbie Cornish, an actor with great range and subtlety who you hope will have more to do here than pour coffee and look sultry. When it’s all over and the big twist you saw coming in the first 15 minutes has been revealed, you feel empty, a bit depressed, and like you need another cup of coffee.
• The Virtuoso is released on 30 April on digital platforms.