For a film like "The Score," the names Robert De Niro, Edward Norton,
Angela Bassett and Marlon Brando are both an asset and a liability. On
the plus side, such a stunning cast is a virtual guarantee that, at the
very least, the acting in the film will be as good as it gets. The
problem is that it's hard to look at that roster and not enter the
theater with unrealistically high expectations.
So is "The Score" an instant classic offering some of the most powerful
ensemble acting ever? No. The film is a sturdy production of a solid, if
unremarkable, caper story. As far as the thespians, this is De Niro and
Norton's show. Brando shares a few scenes with the boys, but his is
merely a supporting role and Angela Bassett, poor Angela Bassett, barely
appears at all. The filmmakers should be ashamed of themselves for
hiring an actor of her caliber and wasting her time with a brief, trite
De Niro anchors the movie with a fine no-nonsense performance and Norton
gets the opportunity to strut his stuff, playing two dynamic characters.
De Niro and Norton make a compelling team, with Brando spicing up the
proceedings as Max, a quirky fence and financier. The story begins as
Max approaches his old friend Nick (De Niro), proposing the theft of a
scepter worth many millions of dollars. The royal staff is secured in
the Montreal Customs House, but Max has an inside man, Jack (Norton),
ready to provide the specs necessary to pull off the robbery.
Nick doesn't want to participate. The caper violates two of his rules:
never pull a heist on your home turf and never work with a partner.
Besides, his dream is to retire from crime and run his elegant jazz club
with Diane (Bassett), the love of his life, at his side, and she will
not commit to him until he goes straight. But the temptation of instant
financial security proves too strong and Nick agrees to do the
proverbial "one last job."
"The Score" looks great. Montreal is a beautiful city with a European
feel and director Frank Oz uses the setting well. He also affords Ed
Norton another attention grabbing dual role. To scope out the Customs
House and win the trust of its employees, Jack takes a janitorial job
under the persona of Brian, a mentally retarded young man. Norton is
smart enough to make Brian a distinct individual rather than a generic
intellectually handicapped person - his Brian is a captivating guy. De
Niro neatly counterbalances Norton's flash and fire. Watching him go
through the mechanics of the heist held my attention even through the
tedious parts because I felt invested in the down-to-earth character.
Brando contributes some playful Sydney Greenstreet-meets-Truman Capote
moments, and, in her very few minutes onscreen, Bassett adds smoke and
substance to the thankless fretful girlfriend role.
I only wish the plot for "The Score" was as strong as its cast. While
there's nothing overtly wrong with the story, there's also nothing fresh
about it. One has to wonder what, besides the opportunity to work with
each other, drew the four actors to such a pedestrian outing. Witnessing
De Niro, Norton, Brando and Bassett act in this film is like watching
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa play softball. You're not sure why they're
doing it, but you wouldn't miss the game for anything.
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott