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:: The Score

You can go back to the days when movies were built around star billing. It was the cornerstone of a movie’s attraction. These days, with skyrocketing costs and salaries, it’s unusual to find more than one superstar actor in a film. However, The Score boasts two of the all-time greats, Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro, and an up-and-coming superstar; Edward Norton. Therefore, it’s hard for much to go wrong.

Foremost in The Score is Robert De Niro who plays Nick Wells, an ageing professional thief who hopes to retire and live a worry-free life with his girlfriend Diane (Angela Bassett). His boss, Max Baron (Marlon Brando) has one more job he needs taken care of so he can pay off another crime boss. He coaxes Nick into this one last job – to steal a priceless French sceptre kept at the Montreal Customs House. Max has an inside man Jack Teller (Edward Norton) who works there disguised as a mentally retarded janitor.

The film starts off a bit slowly but soon the meeting of De Niro and Brando helps kick-start the movie, and that moment is something everyone waits for. It’s this star quality that plays a significant part in the film. And Norton’s role as Jack is perfectly executed. He has mapped out the scenario for his partner Nick. It’s an unusual situation for Nick as he has previously worked solo. The set-up is familiar. An old pro, on his last job, with a cocky young thief and a very tense heist.

Typical of high-end heist stories, The Score then proceeds to offer scenes of high-tech thieves at work, requisite moments of dangling suspense, and a wallop of a final twist. What makes this film so great is that it treats the audience with respect rather than doing loud “bang-‘em-up” sound effects and inept dialogue. Director Frank Oz (“In & Out” and “Bowfinger”) takes a break from his usual comedic efforts to helm this thriller. He lets the audience watch without having to think too hard about the plot. Added pleasure is a subtle, low-key music score that brings a jazz-flavoured influence. There are even brief on-screen appearances by jazz performers Cassandra Wilson and Mose Allison.

The acting is A-class. De Niro always gives a great performance no matter what the script is like. He is brilliant again here. He perfectly conveys Nick’s wary approach to the job, combined with his pride at being one of the last thieves in the business. He is at the top. Brando looks as though he really enjoyed this role and he brings surprising depth to some of his scenes. He still has that remarkable presence and adds great experience. Norton is a fine young actor who may well inherit a status close to De Niro’s one day. Here, he elevates his considerable stature by his dual portrayal – the smart thief and the autistic man. He sells the tension and danger exceedingly well.

Overall, a few lame minutes in the middle of the film just cuts it short of being absolutely fantastic. Nevertheless, this is not a basic crime drama. “The Score” contains some unexpected touches to elevate it. It has style, substance and great talent.

Screening on general release