The basic plot is simple: Nick (Robert De Niro) is an aging thief who wants to get out of the business, but his longtime fence, Max (Marlon Brando), leans on him, convincing him to do one last job – steal a scepter worth $30 million dollars. The problemr Nick must work with Jack (Edward Norton), a young thief who’s “undercover” as a janitor in the building where the scepter is being stored. Complications ensue, and the characters clash. There’s not much in the way of surprises along the way – the thieves have to acquire computer codes, which turns into an elaborate exchange in a public place, and of course, there’s an obligatory and predictable double-cross at the end.
Where I think the movie succeeds is that it creates tension effectively without an excess of danger or violence. No one dies in the film. A couple of folks get beaten up, and a gun is fired 2 or 3 times (as warning shots). There’s an explosion to blow a safe open, and that’s about it for “action.” The tension comes from the presence of the actors, and that’s an impressive feat. De Niro does his now well-worn “aging tough guy” shtick, but no one really does it better, and his chemistry drives the whole film. Norton’s character, unfortunately, is little more than a variation on his (admittedly excellent) work in “Primal Fear.” As part of his “undercover” work, he pretends to be mentally handicapped, and he shifts back and forth between that and his “true” personality effortlessly.
Although De Niro and Norton are strong performers, they dominate the movie to such a degree that other actors don’t make much of an impression. Brando has little more to do than sit there and nod as De Niro delivers his several “but the kid’s a loose cannon!” type speeches, although he gets some nice digs in. Truly wasted is Angela Bassett, as De Niro’s girlfriend, who wants him to get out of the “business.” She shows up in about 4 scenes in the entire film, and I kept waiting for something to happen with her, but nothing does. In fact, none of the supporting performers (except one actor who plays a computer hacker) make any permanent impression whatsoever.
Finally, I want to briefly address the thing that scared me most going in. The film is directed by Frank Oz, whose filmography consists mostly of very good, but very light comedies. As dark as he’s gotten is “Dark Crystal” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” He pulls the film off with admirable aplomb, especially considering how dark the film is (lots of it takes places in sewers, basements, and dark hallways.) I hope this is his first step toward branching out as a filmmaker.
To sum up: “The Score” is a decent flick – not a spectacular one, but it’s nonetheless worth seeing, and it’s certainly a pleasant respite from a movie season that’s (at least thus far) been far more about big movies with flashy explosions and cool special effects than it has been about smaller films with strong performances from great actors.Rating: B