The Score (2001) Movie Review

The Score represents a problem for me. Like so many people, I am prone to enjoy almost any movie starring Robert De Niro. Why? For one, the man rarely makes bad movies. I believe De Niro is as shrewd a businessman and skilled craftsman in real life as he is shrewd and “always on the ball” in his movies. Besides all that, the man is so obviously talented that he makes even the most miserable movie-going experience seem worthwhile. And then there’s Edward Norton, clearly one of the best young actors working today. Norton, like De Niro, is an amazing actor with incredible range, and it’s hard not to believe what Norton is selling you. If the man sold vacuum cleaners, a lot of people would have unnecessary vacuums locked in their closet never to see daylight.

All that being said, The Score is one of the worst movies I’ve seen in my life. It isn’t bad in the sense that I felt dirty after having seen it. Oh no, I leave that distinction for the Tom Green movies of the world. Immediately after watching The Score, I went back to my daily life, never to think of the movie again until I sat down to write this review. That’s the full extent of The Score’s impact on me, and I’ll wager those who saw it felt the same way. The movie is, well, just there.

The plot is a rehash of almost every heist movie that’s ever been made. Nick is an old pro looking to go straight for the sake of his girlfriend, Diane, played by Angela Bassett. She is, of course, surprised that he’s actually going to give it up to be with her, but it’s a pleasant and welcome surprise. Jack is an up and coming thief who is as brash as he is talented. So Nick and Jack join forces despite initial bad impressions and idslike to plan the perfect heist — Nick’s last, and Jack’s biggest score to date.

Throw in Marlon Brando in a throwaway role as Max, the two men’s fencer, and you have a movie with 4 very good actors walking around being, well, good actors. (All except for Brando, who I am assuming is playing his role for the paycheck, since nothing about his performance rings true. I suspect even De Niro, who is often opposite Brando in the movie, can tell that his compatriot is phoning in his performance. It’s a kooky performance without any merits, and I suspect De Niro, the old pro, knows this. I am then left to wonder how long before Brando is unable to continue working on the basis of being “Brando.” If given the chance to work with him, I certainly would not hire the man. I suspect most people who hires Brando does so for the simple reason of being able to say, “I worked with Brando” at a later date.)

With its tired old plot, The Score is already a sure-fire loser. It’s a heist film with two heists in it, and while the final, main heist is well done and intense, the rest of the movie is incredibly slow. The bulk of the movie consists of people talking about the heist, what they’re going to do after the heist, how to do the heist, and the problems involved in the heist. There is an attempt to jazz the movie up with some supposedly “intense” moment at a park that rings fake and not very, well, tense. The scene comes across as yet another exercise in lackluster writing by good actors.

Without a good story (it doesn’t even have to be original, but at least no more of the “last job before retirement” plot, please?) what does a movie have left to offer? The actors, of course. I am blown away by the fact that Norton works across De Niro without flinching and more than holds his own. Unfortunately, good actors are not enough to save a movie that goes nowhere. Once the heist takes place, the movie gives us an anti-climactic ending that was given away by the film’s trailer. (I must really take exception with the trailers of today. They are terribly cut and give away everything.)

The entire movie is workmanlike, from the unspectacular direction to the army of names that were required to write the screenplay. I have a theory (one shared by many professional film critics) that if there are more than two names on a screenplay, the movie is in trouble. When you have four names, as in the case here, you are in big, big trouble. Four names usually means six or seven, since a big budget studio movie will usually have gone through at least 2 or 3 other typewriters belonging to faceless freelance writers whose sole job is to be brought in to “polish” this or that in a given screenplay.

So is there anything good about The Score? Sure. Robert De Niro turns in an excellent performance as always, and you get to see him work across from Edward Norton, a man who will certainly be a big star in the future. Other than that? No, there’s not much that is good about this movie.

Frank Oz (director) / Daniel E. Taylor, Kario Salem, Lem Dobbs, Scott Marshall Smith (screenplay)
CAST: Robert De Niro …. Nick
Edward Norton….Jack/Brian
Marlon Brando….Max
Angela Bassett …. Diane

Buy The Score on DVD