Movie Reviews: The Score




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     Paramount Pictures (2 hrs.)
     A career thief masterminds a nearly impossible theft that requires joining forces with a clever young accomplice.
     Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Angela Bassett, Marlon Brando
Bottom Line:

David Noble-Dandridge

I’m sure "The Score" sounded perfect on paper. Three of the best actors of their respective generations, playing to their strengths: Marlon Brando as the detached, aging, mentor (sort of a neurotic version of Don Corleone); Robert DeNiro as a disciplined, calculating thief who specializes in complex, big-money jobs (almost the identical twin of his Neil McCauley, in Heat); and Edward Norton as a young, upstart con artist with an uncanny ability to pass himself off as having mental and physical disabilities (sort of a combination of Norton’s character in "Primal Fear" mixed with Kevin Spacey’s Verbal Kint, in "The Usual Suspects").

Problem is, this where the inventiveness of screenwriters Kario Salem, Lem Dobbs and Scott Marshall Smith seems to end. With the exception of a few great character bits, many provided by the scene stealing Brando, "The Score" is a run-of-the-mill crime picture from start to finish.

Nick (DeNiro) is a cat burglar. He’s reaching middle age and trying to go legit. He promises his girlfriend, Diane (Angela Bassett), that he’ll give up his life of crime, but his partner, Max (Brando), pulls him in for that all-too-familiar "one last job." The job is stealing a priceless French antique from Canadian Customs with the help of Jack (Norton), Max’s unpredictable inside man. You can pretty much guess the rest. "The Score" doesn’t even try to throw any new beats into the tried and true "retiring thief pulls one last job" movie. It just re-wallpapers it with better acting and sharper dialogue. DeNiro gives a serviceable performance, as always, but his character here is so reminiscent of his character in Heat, that this film feels like a lackluster sequel. The story is straightforward to the point of being one note.

A few embarrassingly underwritten scenes establishing the relationship between DeNiro and Bassett are as close as the film comes to a subplot. A word here to Angela Bassett fans, despite being touted as the female lead, Bassett is only in this movie five minutes longer than you are.

The whole show here is the elevated, tough-guy banter and the way it rolls off the tongues of Brando and Norton. The real gems occur not during daring robberies or police chases, but in the quiet moments when the actors are allowed to shine. Frank Oz’s flavorful direction and Norton’s wry delivery turn what would ordinarily be standard scenes (like a tense information exchange in a public park) into riveting standouts. Unfortunately the acting and the dialogue can’t overcome the fact that each set-up has a weak pay-off. The film is a series of anti-climaxes leading up to a supreme letdown of an ending.

Students of acting might find Norton and Brando’s work worth a look, but those looking for a top-notch thriller won’t settle for this score.



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