In slick noir thriller The Virtuoso a new target falls under the crosshairs of a ruthlessly efficient contract killer (Anson Mount, Star Trek: Discovery) when he’s given a mysterious job by his equally deadly boss (Anthony Hopkins, Silence of the Lambs). Heading into a snow-covered town under the cover of night, the assassin must discover his target and take them out, before the hunter becomes the hunted…
The Virtuoso shares many of the traits of cinema’s great hitmen, a cool exterior, a calmness under pressure, a calculating mind and a deadly arsenal of weapons. But in true film form, when dabbling in the dangerous world of contract killing a routine job can quickly go wrong.
To celebrate the release of The Virtuoso on Digital Download 30 April and DVD 10 May, we’ve taken a look back at some of the deadliest contract killers to have graced our screens.
THE DAY OF THE JACKAL (1973)
Based on the novel of the same name by acclaimed British thriller writer Frederick Forsyth, The Day of the Jackal cast Edward Fox as the ‘Jackal’, a contract killer who attempts to assassinate French president Charles de Gaulle in the summer of 1963. Although a fictionalised story, the film and the book both open with an accurate depiction of the real-life assassination attempt on the president’s life by Jean Bastien-Thiry of the French right-wing terrorist group the OAS before entering the realm of fiction as the OAS hire a professional assassin, the Jackal, to finish the job. The film follows the Jackal as he attempts to set-up the perfect hit on the president, while the French and British authorities scramble to ensnare the mysterious hitman. Although (spoiler alert!) his assassination is ultimately thwarted, the Jackal’s merciless dedication to evade capture in the days leading up to the hit leaves a trail of bodies. A tightly plotted classic of suspense that ratchets up tension throughout, The Day of the Jackal deservedly picked up a BAFTA for Best Editing and remains to this day a blueprint for the contract killer movie.
LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL (1994)
Leon: The Professional stars Jean Reno as the titular Leon, a professional assassin who forms an unlikely relationship with a young girl called Mathilda (played by Natalie Portman), after her family are murdered by a band of corrupt DEA agents, lead by the unhinged Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman). Although initially frosty, the pair’s relationship soon grows strong as Mathilda is drawn into the underground world of contract killing, becoming Leon’s deadly apprentice and ultimately leading to a violent showdown with the loathsome Stansfield. Although packed with graphic bloodshed and OTT action set-pieces, the film is most notable for the unforgettable performances from the three leads. This was Natalie Portman’s first ever feature film appearance, Gary Oldman’s role as the unhinged Stansfield is regularly listed as one of cinema’s greatest villains and Jean Reno is pitch-perfect as the understated, enigmatic hitman. A great example of the hitman anti-hero in cinema that cemented Reno’s reputation as a bona fide action star, Leon: The Professional is a slick, shocking and iconic classic of the genre.
Assassins arrived in cinemas in 1995 armed with the all-star cast of Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas and Julianne Moore, along with top-tier talent behind the camera including director Richard Donner (Superman) and writer Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) working from an original screenplay by The Wachowskis (The Matrix). Stallone plays Robert Rath, an assassin looking to retire and troubled by memories of a past hit. While out on a job, his work is interrupted by Banderas’ Miguel Bains, a vicious new player looking to take the number one assassin spot. The pair must face off in a race to take out a new target, Julianne Moore’s computer hacker Electra (this was the 90s…), with the score big enough for Rath to finally retire. While a box-office success, the film was a target for critics and Sylvester Stallone was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for worst performance… his second of the year after Judge Dredd! Still, for a nostalgic slice of 90s action, Assassins offers plenty of throwback fun.
KILL BILL (2003)
Director Quentin Tarantino and actor Uma Thurman came up with the character of the ‘The Bride’ during the production of his earlier hit Pulp Fiction, creating one of cinema’s most memorable and deadly assassins. Opening on a violent slaughter in a tiny Texes chapel, The Bride is left for dead by her former friends and partners, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Waking from a coma four years later, The Bride sets out to get her revenge, using all her skills to take each member out, one at a time… Originally intended to be released as one single film, it would be split into two due to the lengthy running time with this first part featuring a brutal, close-quarters combat fight scene with Vivica A. Fox, a trip to Okinawa to visit master sword maker Hattori Hanzo (played by martial arts legend Sonny Chiba), an epic yakuza takedown in a Tokyo restaurant and a final snow covered sword fight against Lucy Liu’s gang leader O-Ren Ishii. With a grindhouse sensibility and numerous homages to movie history, from the obvious (Bruce Lee’s yellow Game of Death tracksuit as sported by The Bride) to the obscure (70s Japanese film Lady Snowblood is riffed on in the film’s blood soaked finale), the film incorporates everything from Hong Kong action, Japanese jidaigeki, spaghetti westerns and blaxploitation in a ‘roaring rampage of revenge’.
JOHN WICK (2014)
For wall to wall action and a satisfying tale of revenge, look no further than John Wick. Channeling his 90s action movie hits such as The Matrix and Speed, Keanu Reeves gave us a new icon of cinema in John Wick, the assassin with a heart who goes on a rampage against those who wronged him. After the death of his wife, John receives a Beagle puppy his wife sent him as a gift before her passing. But all hell breaks loose when he bumps into a band of shady Russian gangsters led by Tarasov (Alfie Allen), who try to buy his 1969 Ford Mustang. After John declines to sell, the gangsters target him at home and steal his car. But the final straw comes when they kill his dog, kick-starting a lethal chain-reaction as one-by-one John destroys the Russian gang with fists, kicks, bullets and blades. A big critical and commercial hit, John Wick has spawned two sequels, John Wick: Chapter 2 and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, with each further instalment upping the ante in terms of action and expanding the myth of the deadly underground network of assassins that is introduced in the first film. And with Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 due over the coming years, John Wick’s story is still heating up… we can’t wait to see where the franchise goes next!
The Virtuoso is on Digital Download 30 April and DVD 10 May from Lionsgate UK
Amazon pre-order: https://amzn.to/31yc95q