MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Crime Thriller/ Stars: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Angela Bassett, Marlon Brando, Gary Farmer, Jamie Harrold/ Runtime: 124 minutes
It must be said that filling up a film with some legitimate movie stars is not a guarantee for both critical and commercial success that so many people seem to think it is. That is because there always needs to be more substance and material for the audience to embrace behind the stars and the names that they are attached to. Indeed it is only when that, among other things, is accomplished that a cast for the ages can then make an impact on a film. This was the challenge that director Frank Oz, yes the guy who is more regarded for his work on the Muppets and as Yoda than for his directorial work such as on the brilliant comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, set up for himself when he decided to make a movie that was far more adult and placed firmly in that time-honored genre known as the Heist film. The result was a 2001 caper known as The Score and, upon watching it, I can safely say that is a remarkably tense yet also quite knowledgeable and enjoyable addition to the genre that also had the bonus of having 3 of the finest actors, even if 1 of them did go completely off the rails, that Hollywood ever gave the world of film in the form of Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, and Edward Norton all working together in one film. Indeed this unholy trinity manages to completely electrify the silver screen in what is easily one of the best three-way acts since either the Three Stooges or the circus. Yet while The Score doesn’t exactly fit into the same niche as some of the other “bigger and grander” star-filled casts as seen in such films as Avengers: Endgame, The Longest Day, JFK, or even How the West Was Won, there is still no doubt in my mind that this trinity still manages to elevate significantly one of the better Heist films in the past 20 years to the point that even though the movie is good already, they simply manage to make it better.
The plot is as follows: The Score gives us the chance to meet up with an expert thief by the name of Nick Wells as he is in the midst of what we soon learn is to be his final heist. With it behind him, Nick is desiring to leave his lifetime of crime and thievery in the past and just relax and enjoy the rest of his life. A life consisting of both owning and operating a swanky Montreal jazz club as well as settling down with his lovely and amazing girlfriend Diane. However when Nick decides to let his longtime friend and fence Max know that he is done. Max has other plans. Plans that involve all but coercing Nick into being part of what he calls “the job of a lifetime”. It seems that a jewel-embedded French royal scepter is being held somewhere within Montreal’s Customs House, and Max has a man on the inside ready to take it, but they need Nick’s help to get at it. The proverbial man on the inside is a young man by the name of Jack Teller. Mr. Teller, we are able to perceive as well as already being stated, is a young yet passionate and brilliant thief who has managed to be quite the charmer during his time at the Custom House where he has been working under the guise of a mentally disabled custodian and, as such, has managed to learn the entire layout and acquire important intel that should make swiping the scepter that much easier. Thus, despite a high amount of both reluctance and cynical skepticism, Nick eventually decides to work together with Jack on the heist on the understanding that Nick is both in charge and free to walk at any time if something about either the job or Jack doesn’t sit right with him. Thus the question has now been raised: will the heist go according to plan or will everyone’s individual ego and greed interfere in ensuring that everyone not only gets away, but that they all manage to get paid for their efforts? That, dear reader, is the 64,000 dollar question and only by watching this movie will you know the answer…..
Now this film really truly is as wonderfully constructed and as well-thought up as any film in it’s distinct genre of film. Indeed it really does seem that this film’s multi-talented director really does have a terrific understanding of this particular genre; a fact that becomes quote apparent when taking into account just how much his skill with the characters, the structure of the narrative, how well it runs, and the energy it has at its disposal really do seem to energize this film even though it may seem run-of-the-mill on the surface. Once it settles in however, it soon becomes obvious that this film is not your typical heist film. Indeed there is a strong attraction to both the characters and the world that they inhabit that it manages to rise above the simple narrative involving a master con completing what they think is their final assignment only to have once again reenter that world alongside a counterpart who, for whatever reason, doesn’t see the world the way they do. Indeed this is the usual narrative threadline that a lot of other films in this genre possess, but Oz actually manages to redefine it utilizing an approach that chooses to showcase not the various ins and outs that come with the narrative, but instead how the characters themselves choose to shape it. Not only that, but Oz is such a skilled craftsman that the film also is granted a wonderfully steady amount of energy. Yet it is also an energy that builds as the movie goes, and which may only be noticed and even comprehended when the movie ends and the audience is finally able to take a breath once more. Thus this is a film with a vast surplus of character and that is focused not on flash and style, but rather with providing audiences with a focused narrative structure that also beautifully builds to an extremely thrilling final act all while being aided by a top-notch cast that is truly one for the ages.
Now to claim that Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, and Edward Norton are anything but a pretty damn impressive cast for a heist film would honestly just serve to really sell incredibly short the level of Grade-A acting that is done in this film. Indeed, as Max, Brando is given a role in this that, although crucial to the narrative, is one that doesn’t have a lot of screen time. Indeed he may not be in the form he was in either Apocalypse Now or The Godfather, but it is still a pleasure to see him act, 98’s Island of Dr. Moreau withstanding, and he certainly does do some good work in this film regardless of the reported issues he and the director may have had. Yet at the end of the day, this is more De Niro and Norton’s movie, and both manage to deliver absolutely wonderful work in every minute of screen time that they are given. Indeed on his end of things, De Niro manages to showcase his part phenomenally well right from the get-go as showcased not only at the beginning where is completely believable as we see Nick at work, but for the rest of the film where we see the planning and subsequent carrying out of the heist, and in regards to his relationships both professionally as personified by Jack, personally as personified by Diane, and a bit of both as personified by Max. I also feel though his relationship with Diane is a wonderful addition to the film because it really contributes a intriguing wrinkle to the film that manages to increase the internal debate that Nick finds himself struggling with during the duration of the film. Ultimately though, it is none other than Edward Norton who manages to take the movie right from under these 2 Hollywood icons by managing to, for all intents and purposes, portray 2 characters absolutely perfectly. Indeed his turn as both the brilliant but also novice and quite stubborn thief who finds himself frequently butting heads with the older and wiser Nick as well as his cover of a sweet, childlike mentally disabled custodian are both incredibly well-done and extremely well-acted. Indeed it isn’t that often when you see an actor 5 years into their craft manage to upstage 2 fellow legendary thespians, but Norton was able to do just that.
All in all it is safe to say that a movie in the vein of The Score is one that manages to thrive or sink faster than the Titanic based not only on how complex the plot is, the immense skill of the team behind the camera, and the expertise of the skilled thespians in front of the camera. In regards to the first 2, The Score is a film that definitely manages to serve as a fantastic showcase of a genre that is both wonderful and as timely as ever while also showcasing some truly wonderful work from director Frank Oz and his creative team. In the case of the last category however is where this film really manages to soar. This is because getting the chance to watch this trinity of acting icons all managing to deliver winning performances in a film together is a treat in and out of itself. Thus definitely give this film a try. I promise you that this is one heist you will want to sit in on time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Score “01” a 3.5 out of 5.