THE VIRTUOSO (2021)

April 29, 2021

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 April30th in Dallas

WATCH THE TRAILER


NON-STOP (2014)

March 2, 2014

non-stop Greetings again from the darkness. Hollywood is a true believer in the theory that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. The constant attempts to capture the same lightning bolt in the same bottle would be kind of funny, if not so frustrating for us movie-goers. Liam Neeson’s surprise hit with 2008’s Taken spawned not just a sequel, but now two movies from director Jaume Collet-Serra – this one and the disappointing Unknown. Oh well, it’s easy money for Neeson and it’s not the worst early year release.

It’s been 20 years since Liam Neeson’s Oscar nominated performance in Schindler’s List. Rather than a great actor, he might best be described as a familiar screen presence … a guy we can somehow relate to most of the time. Well, at least until he unleashes his particular set of skills … this time in an airplane lavatory! The set up for this thriller is quite promising. Neeson plays an alcoholic US Air Marshal looking and sounding quite beaten down by life in the first few minutes. Once on his flight, he receives a text informing him that someone onboard will be killed every 20 minutes until $150 million is transferred into an account. It’s a combination hijacking, extortion, whodunnit murder mystery and blackmail story. Unfortunately the three first time screenwriters (one of whom “wrote” for the WWE) botch every possible twist and turn. With a plane full of suspects, we play right along with Neeson as he begins the process to narrow down. We’ve enjoyed the claustrophobic approach to movie thrillers before in such movies as Flight, Air Force One, Flightplan and even Phone Booth.

For whatever reason, this plane never feels cramped and the tight spaces only come into play with the aforementioned lavatory fight scene, and even that seems like the most spacious airplane restroom in the history of aviation. Even the multiple drop-dead deadlines aren’t really played for full effect, and the decent supporting cast isn’t given much to do, save for looking suspiciously at Neeson.

Julianne Moore co-stars, but mostly her role consists of disbelieving stares and a tilt of the head. Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”) gets a few juicy scenes, as does the always interesting Scoot McNairy. Unfortunately, Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong’o, Shea Whigham, Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey”), and Nate Parker have little to do, and the absolute wasting of Anson Mount is a crime.

If you are skittish about flying, there is no reason to see this one, though the convoluted motive and lackluster reveal might help you forget the story takes place on an international flight. The one thing we do learn is that Liam Neeson can take a fire extinguisher to the head and bounce right back up without a mark. Let’s add that to his particular set of skills, while we less-than-anxiously await yet another collaboration between Neeson and this director coming in 2015.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have the late winter cabin fever blues and are in desperate need of a movie to get the blood pumping.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are hoping to get a jump on next year’s Oscar season.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiHDJ19A3dk