Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Score Movie Review: The Uniting of Three Legends of Their Time

This review was written in July 2001 and is presented here for the first time.

Who would have thought that one movie could assemble the three greatest method actors from three generations? Getting that perfect dream cast together to watch three men so skilled at their art working with, off and against each other? Director Frank Oz's new heist thriller The Score does just that with Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Edward Norton.


De Niro plays Nick Wells, an aging thief who has worked for 25 years at perfecting his technique. He never takes risks and never does a job in his home town of Montreal where he runs a respectable jazz club and pays his taxes like a dutiful citizen. But his fence and mentor, Max Baron (Brando) has a job for him that could get Nick millions and send him into retirement. And wouldn't you guess that the job is right in Montreal? The object: a rare royal French scepter dating back hundreds of years which is being held in the Customs House. Oh, and Nick has to work with a partner whom he doesn't know. Enter Jack Teller (Norton) who has set himself up as a mentally handicapped janitor in the warehouse so he can easily stake out the security.

While there is nothing truly groundbreaking in the narrative of the film – the job is presented to the thief; he meets his partner; has reservations about the job; accepts said job; plans the job; problems arise; executes job – it is the style and execution that makes it stand out more than anything. It's a truly slick heist movie almost in the same vein as the recent Thomas Crown Affair remake where we watch a hip protagonist and desire to be as confident as he is. De Niro's character is calm, cool and collected – not unlike the characters he played in Heat and Ronin. He utilizes interesting gadgets, constantly causing us to wonder how he could possibly have known exactly which ones he would need for this particular job.

The scenes with Brando and De Niro, as well as those with all three leads, are the best in terms of acting. These three greats play off each other like the masters that they are. While they may not contain the same element of intrigue as that famous coffee scene in Heat that put De Niro and Al Pacino face-to-face for the first time, you're still aware that you're witnessing history. These are three actors who exploded onto the scene in the same way, each separated by about two decades. Brando in 1951 with A Streetcar Named Desire, De Niro in Mean Streets in 1973 and then Norton in Primal Fear in 1996.

The film really only missteps twice: once with the introduction of a reclusive computer hacker (Jamie Harrold) whose scenes are played with an uneasy tone of humor that is not in keeping with the rest of the movie. Without giving away plot details the second is toward the end when one character acts in a way that is completely forced by the script just to provide a satisfactory ending. His motivations are simplistic and unnatural at best.

Ultimately those shortcomings do not denigrate what is essentially the most fun movie of the summer thus far. You can almost see Edward Norton in some movie twenty-five years from now starring opposite the next phenomenal actor. Until then, I'll settle for The Score.

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