Paramount // 2001 // 124 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // December 5th, 2001
It will take three of them to get it...but only one can keep it.
When The Score was released in theaters it was touted as a tour-de-force of acting by three generations of great talent. In corner number one we have past heavyweight champion Marlon Brando (The Godfather Collection). In corner number dos is Oscar winner Robert De Niro (Cape Fear). And in corner number three is relative newcomer Edward Norton (American History X). Brought together for a crime caper directed by Frank Oz (The Indian In The Cupboard, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), Paramount sneaks into your house and robs you blind with this edition of The Score.
Nick Wells (De Niro) is happy spending his days running a nightclub in Montreal while subsequently spending time with his beautiful girlfriend Diane (Angela Bassett, What's Love Got To Do With It?). Nick is also a professional safecracker who lives by a sworn motto: never steal from where you live (i.e., Montreal). Nick is on the verge of retirement from his criminal days, ready to go completely legitimate with his nightclub and girlfriend. But when Nick's old friend Max (Brando), a big time crime lord, comes into town to pull Nick into one last heist, Nick is seized with a genuine opportunity (and a hefty paycheck). The gig: steal a valuable scepter from the House of Customs worth well over $30 million. With the help of Jack (Norton), a younger thief who works at the House of Customs by pretending to be a retarded janitor, Nick might be able to pull of this one last heist. However, as soon as the high-risk gamble starts to uncover heavy egos, the job is put in jeopardy with a host of double crosses, backstabs and sinister deceptions!
People who are looking for superlative acting will enjoy The Score. Those hoping for explosive action and unbridled thrills will be sorely disappointed. Sure, The Score has its fair share of exciting moments, and even a few scenes of well placed action. Otherwise, this is a movie that focuses on the acting abilities of its three mega-superstars, and boy do they pull it off.
To say that there is an excess of talent in the film is an understatement. While De Niro, Brando, and Norton's films may not always bring in the box office dollars (uh...anyone out there see Brando's The Island Of Dr. Morerau?), they are widely considered to be three of the most talented actors of their generations. Each man ends up bringing something new and different to the table in terms of style -- Brando utilizes his batting eyes and graceful moves, De Niro his no-nonsense demeanor and grace, and Norton his youthful and cocky attitude. While watching The Score I was aware that I was viewing three actors who really know their craft -- and their co-worker's moves as well. Of the three De Niro comes off as the most professional and earnest. His character Nick Wells is played with an undercurrent of restraint and compassion -- he is a man who is ready to get out of crime, but as Al Pacino said in The Godfather Part III, "They pull me back in!" Brando and Norton are also both very good, though Brando comes off as a bit fidgety and effeminate. Norton gets the thankless task of injecting some humor into the script with his character's portrayal of the dimwitted Brian. Director Frank Oz is known for making such lighter work as In & Out, What About Bob? and The Dark Crystal, as well as being the voice behind "Yoda" from the Star Wars films. The Score is Oz's first out and out action/drama, and the director proves that he's as capable at handling light laughs and children's fables as he is at serious stories. While there was some reported tension between Brando and Oz, this never shows in the performances or the directing.
The screenplay by Kario Salem, Lem Dobbs, and Scott Marshall Smith is clever and just twisting enough that you're never exactly sure where it's going next. Much like David Fincher's The Game and David Mamet's Heist, The Score plays around with the conventions of the genre. While I was usually sure about De Niro's character's motives, Brando and Norton's characters never seem to be who you think they are. Toying with audience expectations is what makes The Score an above average movie with exceptional performances -- no one oversteps their bounds, and every character is realistic and never overplayed. I don't want to go into any more detail about the plot for fear of ruining the surprises for those of you who haven't seen the film. Rest assured that it's got more than its fair share of enjoyable turns.
If The Score has a downside, it's that the film may stretch on too long. Clocking in at over two hours, it seems to include an awful lot of filler. Angela Bassett's character Diane is given little to do except dote on Nick and look sexy. Bassett is an excellent actress who ultimately needs more to do than what she's given in this role. By the end of the movie, viewers probably won't think that they've witnessed anything extraordinary or overly original. What they will think is that they were given a well-made, vibrant heist movie -- and The Score is most definitely that.
The Score is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Much of the film takes place in darkly lit corridors and rooms, though the color schemes and black levels look very even and bright. Edge enhancement was spotted in only a few instances, and digital artifacting/shimmer was non-present. Overall Paramount has done a very nice job on this transfer.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English and French. This is a very well mixed 5.1 audio track that utilizes surround sounds when needed, though isn't aggressive enough to blow the roof off of your dwellings. Howard Shore's evocative music score is prominently displayed throughout the film. Dialogue, music, and effects are all mixed evenly and without any hint of distortion or hiss. All in all, this is a very nice soundtrack that fits the film. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Paramount has included some very nice extra features on this edition of The Score, starting with an entertaining commentary track by director Frank Oz and director of photography Rob Hahn. To start off with it's interesting to note that this track was recorded in July of 2001, just days after the theatrical release of the film. Oz and Hahn are relatively chatty guys who go into great length about the film's production and script (I liked Oz's attempt to "do something new with an after-sex scene"). While this track may not be very funny or humorous, it is informative -- which is what works best for a film like The Score.
Next up is the 12-minute "The Making Of The Score" featurette. Not surprisingly this is a very light piece that leans more towards promotional than informative. For some reason I wasn't all that surprised to see all the principle players interviewed except Mr. Brando. De Niro, Norton, Bassett, and Oz all give some slight insight into the story, their characters (the use of improvisational acting was encouraged), and working together on the film.
Some "additional footage" includes a scene of Brando and De Niro improvising during a bar scene (which is actually very funny), an "alternate" coffee shop scene, and an "alternate" scene/performance by jazz legend Mose Allison. Finally, there is a theatrical trailer for The Score presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
An enjoyable caper that should please those looking for some taught, fulfilling performances. The Score may not be anything extra special, but it is entertaining and enthralling. Those who've waited to see De Niro and Brando together on screen for the first time won't want to miss this film.
Both Paramount and The Score are free to go! Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer
* The Making of The Score
* Additional Footage
* Commentary Track by Director Frank Oz and Director of Photography Rob Hahn