Score, The (United States, 2001)
Many years ago, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the motion picture industry practically ran on star power. These days, in large part because of skyrocketing salaries, it's unusual to find more than one high-profile performer in any given motion picture. The Score, however, boasts three of them - aging icon Marlon Brando, Scorsese favorite Robert De Niro, and the up-and-coming Edward Norton. Admittedly, this sounds like an unbeatable combination to fashion a top-notch caper flick, but, like 1998's disappointing Twilight, The Score proves that a cast with high-wattage names isn't enough. The script needs to be on par with the acting talent, and, at least in this case, it isn't. The Score is let down by the screenwriters.
As heist movies go, this one is on the low side of mediocre. For most of the running length, it's acceptable - in fact, some of the scenes detailing the preparation and execution of the crime are engaging - but there are two twists near the end that are dumb and unnecessary. Screenwriters Kario Salem, Lem Dobbs, and Scott Marshall Smith fail to understand the meaning of the cliché "less is more." The Score doesn't need the character-assassinating, logic-defying contortions that mar its final ten minutes; it would have been a more satisfying experience had it not turned the climax into an unpredictable mess.
Nick Wells (De Niro) is a master burglar who has made a comfortable living doing jobs for others. Now, as he's contemplating retirement to run his beloved jazz club in Montreal, he is offered one last opportunity by his old friend, Max Baron (Brando). A priceless artifact - a 17th century scepter made for a girl queen - is being held in the basement of the Montreal Customs House. It is kept in a secure place - inside a safe and surrounded by all sorts of electronic anti-theft equipment. But Max is convinced that Nick can commit the robbery with the aid of Jackie Teller (Edward Norton), Max's "man on the inside." Nick, smelling trouble, initially declines, but the lure of "a very big payoff for very acceptable risks" eventually lures him into a partnership with Jackie. Together, the two of them begin planning a huge score.
I don't understand how Marlon Brando still finds work. His days of wine and roses are long past; he hasn't given a memorable performance since Nixon was in the White House, and he looks more like Jabba the Hutt than the well-chiseled actor who stunned audiences in On the Waterfront. He's a self-parody; a once-great actor who has lost the desire to act and works only for obscene amounts of money. Like a badly out of tune piano, every note he strikes is sour. Plus, there's the colossal ego to contend with - an ego that caused him to refuse to be on the set at the same time as director Frank Oz, a situation that the studio euphemistically stated to be the result of "creative differences." The product is an awkward, unpolished performance. Fortunately, Brando is only in handful of scenes.
For De Niro and Norton, this is just another paycheck. The Score is not an actors' movie; it is plot-driven. De Niro, Norton, and Brando are all there because of their names, not because they have anything of substance to contribute. As Nick, the aging crook who wants to go straight, De Niro is traversing a well-trodden path. Likewise, Norton could do the role of Jackie in his sleep. Both actors are fine, but there's nothing here to challenge either of them. Meanwhile, poor Angela Bassett has the dubious distinction of holding down the paper-thin part of Nick's girlfriend - the woman for whom he's willing to give up his life of crime.
Director Frank Oz, better known for helming lighter films (like 1986's Little Shop of Horrors), seems a little out of his depth here, although that could have something to do with the on-set friction. The film occasionally develops tension (mainly during the heist sequences), but it is unable to sustain it. And, on one occasion, Oz works hard to generate some artificial suspense by including a superfluous scene where Norton buys computer access codes from a couple of hackers.
It's worth noting that, with a less prestigious cast, The Score would have been a strong candidate for direct-to-video or direct-to-cable distribution. Based on the script alone, this is not a theatrical quality motion picture. It's weak even when compared to recent caper movies like the cynical, ultra-violent Snatch or the gentle, comedic Where the Money Is. The Score is not a complete bore - the involvement of these actors guarantees that (after all, it is a momentous occasion to finally have the two Vito Corleones on screen together) - but it has to be classified as a disappointment. From the trio of Brando, De Niro, and Norton, one expects something more inspired and less workmanlike than what The Score is able to offer.
Score, The (United States, 2001)
Cast: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Angela Bassett, Marlon Brando
Screenplay: Kario Salem and Lem Dobbs and Scott Marshall Smith
Cinematography: Rob Hahn
Music: Howard Shore
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures