Director: Frank Oz
Cast: Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, Edward Norton, Angela Bassett, Jamie Harrold, Gary Farmer
MPAA Rating: (for language)
Running Time: 2:04
Release Date: 7/13/01
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Review by Mark Dujsik
There are many times that an actor’s abilities transcend the material he or she is given, but only a few actors can transcend the material presented to them by simply showing up. The Score places three of them in what is essentially a conventional heist movie. That’s not to say it isn’t well-paced or well-plotted, but when all is said and done, the only reason this movie rises above a certain level is because at one point Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, and Edward Norton share the screen. These are arguably the three finest actors of their respective generations, and simply realizing that they are all working in the same room and we can see it should bring a smile to anyone’s face.
The movie itself is about one thing—the heist. The characters are archetypes of the genre. We know what Nick Wells (De Niro) is like from the opening sequence. As he breaks into a safe, we can tell he’s professional. When he hides from a couple who enter the room, we can tell he’s cautious. When the woman discovers him, we can tell he’s calm. This is essentially what every career criminal in the movies is like, and to make him sympathetic with the audience, enter the girlfriend Diane (Angela Bassett), whose only reason for existence is to give Nick the motivation to quit. Soon at his jazz club, Nick is meeting with Max (Brando), the brains behind the operation. The moment Brando walks on screen, my face instantly lighted up in a smile. Soon, Brando and De Niro are on screen together, doing their thing. There’s a certain joy in watching professionals like this working together.
We soon learn that there’s another job to be had. The Montreal Customs House is holding a priceless scepter, and Jack Teller (Norton), the young and ambitious criminal, has a nice cover inside where he poses as "Brian," a disabled man working as an assistant janitor. Nick doesn’t take to well to Jack’s direct actions, and of course, Jack doesn’t like that Nick won’t take any risks. That’s the essential, well-worn character conflict, but soon the movie places Brando, De Niro, and Norton in the same room as they plan out the heist, and I completely forgot about the familiarity of the set-up.
The Score doesn’t break any new ground, and its story never goes anywhere beyond being about the robbery. The set-up is obvious, but the simple presence of the leads makes it far more interesting than it should have been. Place this movie with lesser talent, and you’d definitely have a lesser film. Once the set-up ends, the heist sequence commences, and for about forty-five minutes to an hour, it doesn’t end. It’s an exceptionally well-paced sequence that builds up genuine suspense. There are a lot of obvious pay-offs, but they are all satisfying because we can see them coming. It would feel like a cheat if the time taken for the set-up was wasted for simple shocks.
The heist sequence does have a few problems. I wonder why the filmmakers decided to keep Nick’s method of opening the vault a secret. Had we known, there may have been some suspense in wondering if it would work. So in turn, it comes out of nowhere and doesn’t seem that exceptional of an idea. There are also many times when certain parts of the plan (the equipment to be used, how they’ll disable certain detection devices, etc.) are glossed over with dialogue like, "I’ll take care of it," and when they finally come into play, the result is not as satisfying.
However, these are minor details. The Score is never boring, and at many times it’s exciting. I appreciated that most of the thrills come from dialogue and story set-up as opposed to shoot-outs and car chases. What really sells it, though, is the presence of three great actors doing what they do best.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.