The Score Movie Review

I'll admit to having a soft spot for heist movies. It's just too bad that, with the exception of The Thomas Crown Affair remake, most recent heist flicks have come off atrociously, a fact to which anyone who sat through the ridiculous Entrapment can testify.

Hallelujah. The Score is the heist film I've wanted to see for a long time. Not since James Caan burned that safe open in 1981's Thief has a safecracking been so tense and meticulously designed. And with the triple threat of Ed Norton, Robert De Niro, and -- God bless him -- Marlon Brando, The Score is in some excellent hands.

The story is a familiar one. De Niro plays the likable Nick Wells, an expert safecracker who has clearly done well living a life of crime. He lives the high life, but does it quietly, in Montreal, where he runs a swanky jazz club (presumably as a money laundering front). Much like Pierce Brosnan's Crown, we instantly like Nick, and when he expresses doubts about a big job his rotund partner Max (Brando) cooks up, we want to agree with his demurral. But Max's inside man Jack (Norton) will have none of it -- he weasels his way into Nick's audience and convinces him to do the job. The prize: a priceless gold scepter, secreted in a maximum-security vault in the basement of the Montreal customs office.

Jack is key -- under the guise of a retarded janitor named Brian, he has the run of the building. With his inside knowledge and Nick's raw talent, the job looks doable. If there is any honor among thieves, that is.

Like any good heist movie, The Score walks us through the minutiae of masterminding such a grand plan, leaving enough of it secret so that when it plays out on the screen, we're on the edges of our seats. De Niro is solid, but it's Norton who steals the show with his haughty and smarmy Jackie (not to mention a spot-on retarded janitor). Brando, of course, is larger than life and, like any wonder of the world, a spectacle to behold. His screen time, sadly, is predictably brief.

The Score also has some other nice touches. Its set designs are impeccable, with Nick's jazz club a haunt I'd love to be a regular at. The film also features the most amusing computer hacker character (played to caffeine-addled perfection by Jamie Harrold) I've seen since WarGames.

Alas, the film is already drawing criticism, and justly so, for a remarkably slow first act. The film plods for at least half an hour, repetitiously setting up what is already apparent: that Nick is plenty well off and wants out of the racket. Angela Bassett's girlfriend role is a throwaway, a blatant (and unsuccessful) attempt to get a woman somewhere in the movie. Howard Shore's score is also undercooked, a crummy rush job that repeats endlessly and pulls you out of the action (visit the movie's web site and you can hear it for yourself, over and over and over again).

But when the music is low and the game is on, The Score manages to pull off a feat seen so rarely in cinema today: It makes you forget you're watching a movie. While recent movies like Memento have been stellar, they're still just pictures on a screen. The Score makes you feel like you're handing De Niro a bolt cutter so he can get through a steel cage. My palms were sweating out of apprehension for the guy. Frank Oz is no master director, but he's managed to pull off a rare home run with this one.

As a side note, The Score also has a bit of Hollywood gossip surrounding it, namely involving the rumor that Brando would have none of Frank Oz's direction to "tone it down." Considering Brando is Brando and Oz is the voice of Miss Piggy, it's easy to understand both sides of the argument. But judging from some of the shit Brando pulls in the film, I'd say the real score is: Brando 1, Oz 0. On the DVD, Oz offers a commentary track with his director of photography, recorded only a few days after the film opened. The best extra, though, are the outtakes -- including a number of improv takes of the infamous "Brando talking into a water bottle" scene. Classic.

No, that's not Harry Tuttle.


The Score Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: R, 2001


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