DeNiro, Norton, Bassett, Brando. The last names are all we need. This select foursome of some of the best actors in screen history have teamed up with director Frank Oz to bring forth "The Score" (IMDb listing). Why pick this film as the gathering point for all involved? After viewing the diverting "The Score," I find myself asking the very same question.
Nick (Robert DeNiro) is a seasoned cat burglar who is slowly putting together his dream of owning a jazz club through years of stealing from the rich. When his confidant (Marlon Brando) hands him an opportunity for one last $6 million score, Nick is hesitant to dive in. The thief doesn't want to upset his concerned girlfriend (Angela Bassett), nor does he trust the young man (Edward Norton) who is researching what will eventually become the burglary of a rare jewel-encrusted scepter held in a Montreal customs house.
"The Score" is a movie of simple pleasures. The story never runs that deep, instead favoring acting fireworks over explosive plot twists or daring feats of action. Backed by Howard Shore's jazz-influenced score, and cinematographer Rob Hahn's pitch-black visuals, "The Score" could very well put you to sleep. Every aspect and sensibility to the picture screams "We're a grown-up film, and not going to play by summer movie rules!" This thriller can get away with that mindset since it did manage to snag such a high-wattage cast, and the central plot features one of the more attractive themes in movies, the heist.
Watching people steal things always seems to entertain unlike anything else, and it helps hackneyed films like 1999's "Entrapment" seem more agreeable than it should've been. "The Score" is all about the planning and execution of a robbery. Nothing more, nothing less. Its very simplicity is what makes the film work well. The narrative doesn't get bogged down in aimless subplots and excruciating character backstory. There is no extra fat on this film. "The Score" is uncomplicated: We learn the heist, we plan for the heist, we conduct the heist, then we see the outcome of it all.
Simple and kind of dull you might think? Then why were all my fingernails chewed off at the end of the film?
For that answer we must come back to the cast. With all that star power, how can you make a tedious film? DeNiro leads the way for the ensemble with his characteristic committed performance. He controls the film the way few actors would (similar to his commanding work in 1998's "Ronin"), which utterly spells the downfall for weakest link Edward Norton. Norton is a fine actor, yet "The Score" begs him to be a tough guy. Norton, acting through his sweaty, bulked-up pecs, is just not persuasive as a threat. I never once believed he was capable of endangering DeNiro's character. And the very idea that Norton would attempt to inflict any kind of violence against DeNiro extracts more laughter than suspense. I don't think the production was intending that. And as for Angela Bassett, well I'm sure the cutting room floor now holds most of her character. The final film is all too willing to ignore her whenever it sees fit.
All the players signed on to the film to work with Marlon Brando, and for the very first time in 20 years, Brando isn't bonkers. In a quiet, funny, and remorseful role; Brando seems to be actually performing again. The actor returns a little luster to his crown as the king of acting, and I hope it prompts more trips to the celluloid for his forgotten talent.
For a man known primarily for his Muppet movies and Steve Martin comedies ("Housesitter," "Bowfinger," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"), director Frank Oz seems with "The Score" to showcase a little more visual style and artistic depth. I especially liked Oz's decision to use the Montreal locations as Montreal, and not try to pass it off as an American city like so many recent films. It suits Oz, the change of pace to more adult material, yet the very sluggish nature of the story keeps the film from bursting out. I can appreciate the attempt to make a film that is in no way MTV influenced, but this story is familiar terrain, and Oz incapacitates the picture from transcending its roots with his lead foot. "The Score" is a solid, worthy two hours. However, it's two hours you'll forget instantly.
Filmfodder Grade: B