Right: Frank Oz directs Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, Jr. while filming The Score.
Review contains very minor spoilers.
I really enjoy “smart thief” movies. These are movies where the hero is a thief, or a con man, or some other kind of criminal, and is trying to pull off an elaborate job with all sorts of preparation and intricate steps involved. Usually this involves having other thieves assist with various aspects of the theft, and as we all know, there is no honor amongst thieves, and that makes for a tremendous opportunity for tension and drama between the characters. The Italian Job (also starring Norton) was a very nice remake in this genre recently, and so was Ocean’s Eleven (Ocean’s Twelve was something of a disappointment). The overly-talky Heist (written and directed by David Mamet, what did I expect?) was also a foray into this genre, but it lacked enough thieving action to be really thrilling. Other films borrow from this genre also, perhaps most prominently in recent years Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise, which should see a third installment next year.
The Score is a superior version of this kind of movie. It’s got a very high-powered cast: Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, Jr., with smaller roles played by Angela Bassett, and Marlon Brando. There is a lot more talking in the second act of the movie than I would have preferred, but the skill of the actors involved makes this somewhat more endurable. The somewhat unusual setting of the movie in Montreal, is played well. I assume that the movie was shot in Montreal and if so, the location scouts deserve some recognition for finding some really great places for the shots that play up both Montreal’s basic old-world beauty as well as its grittier urban side.
Part of what makes the movie enjoyable is watching the elaborate preparations for the theft; another part is watching the relationship between the thieves develop. The opportunities for tension and conflict abound and in this case, the script plays up the tension between the two lead characters very well – and the actors have the skill to demonstrate how their characters work to submerge their mutual dislike for one another for the sake of pulling off the job.
The movie only confirmed my belief that Edward Norton is one of the best actors working today. He's astonishingly malleable, emotional, and believable. Seein him paired with De Niro makes this a must-see. In theory, pairing these two with Marlon Brando, who some consider to have been the greatest actor in movies ever, would be heaven for lovers of good acting. But, Brando's part is almost a distraction to the plot, and while it's nice that he had a decent swan song, the movie is not about him.
This serious, tense movie was directed by Frank Oz, whose taste in projects usually runs towards the whimsical and comedic. Oz was greatly assisted in his departure from typical form by a generally tight and well-edited script. That’s not to say that there wasn’t some fat along with the meat -- at the end of the day, Brando’s role could have been written out of the movie with no loss to the narrative. And there was some trimming going on -- I wanted to see more of the lovely Angela Bassett and learn more of the back story of her relationship with De Niro’s character; but upon reflection, she had a supporting role and for purposes of this script, less is more for the romantic back story. But the movie is ultimately about Robert De Niro and Edward Norton’s efforts to pull off a daring theft and the focus of the movie is always kept on the theft itself, right where it ought to be.
The Score is well worth a rental, if you've not seen it already.