The Good: Excellent acting, Good characters, Generally well-executed plot
The Bad: Disappointing (obvious) twist at the end, Disappointing underuse of Angela Bassett
The Basics: In yet another crime caper, Robert De Niro and Edward Norton give great performances as criminals competing to be masters.
Somewhere along the line in U.S. society, a line became not only blurred, but completely smeared. If you look at early movies, there were a line between good and evil and all of the movies were about how good triumphed over evil. Often, those old movies had the good guys behaving almost identically to the bad guys (punching people out, yelling at innocents to get information, etc.) to triumph, but you always knew who the good guys were and you were always rooting for them. Then, there came movies where the bad guys were more interesting, delicious even, than the good guys and we hated the ends of the movies because it didn't make sense that good could beat such an excellent bad guy. Somewhere in the nineties, continuing through today, movies started to focus on bad guys solely and we started rooting for the most human or likable bad guy without actually judging the quality of how bad they were.
The Score is one such movie, about a loose confederation of career criminals, led by Max. Max owes some serious money, so he hires Nick Wells to perform one last heist for him, a golden scepter stuck in a customs office. Max uses Jack Teller, a young criminal looking to score his first big theft. Jack's angle is that he has access to the customs office as he has been posing for weeks as a mentally retarded janitor there. Nick, eager to escape his life of crime and settle down once and for all as a nightclub owner, reluctantly takes the job and finds himself in a crossfire of lies and deceit.
Yes, it's another bank robber-type movie. Here, though, there's no moralizing over the actions of the characters, outside Diane (played by Angela Bassett), they are all morally corrupt thieves, hackers and liars. Outside the context of the movie, it's hard to like any of them (Diane being difficult to like because she is such a nonentity in the film).
But that's the power of The Score. Watching this movie, we willingly suspend our disbelief and our cultural values of property rights to root for Nick. We want to believe that he wants to make good and we come to see him rather early on as the most benevolent of thieves in a world populated by criminals. In short, he's the one to root for because he seems to have some aspirations of doing right and going legitimate.
Indeed, Nick is likable throughout the movie, played by Robert De Niro as tender and genuine in his scenes with Bassett's Diane. De Niro reminds us how great an actor he can be by making Nick different from his other characters. This is not a loud, angry performance, nor should it be; his character is both cunning and feeling his age. De Niro provides us with a far more reasonable interpretation of an aging person and a criminal who has survived so long without being caught than he would had he played him pretty much any other way.
The person who steals the show (largely because Marlon Brando looks like he's ready to die in every scene he's in in this movie) is Edward Norton. Norton does an amazing job playing a character playing a character. It seems like every ten reviews, I run into a story that requires a character to play another person, but the repetition here is certainly worthwhile; Norton quite adequately plays Jack playing a mentally retarded person without ever making the viewer feel it is Norton playing a mentally retarded person. That's skillful acting. Norton's use of body language and voice create an impressive alter ego that makes us believe in the will of Jack.
The only real problem, then, is in the resolution. There is a surprise twist at the end, but it is not a surprise to those of us who have respect for the way the world works. If we are to believe that Nick has survived so long without being caught, the end is more inevitable than surprising. Still, the reactions he receives are fun to watch and the movie is quite enjoyable.
While not living up to the caliber of The Usual Suspects, The Score easily engages the viewer and makes them root for one criminal over another. Too bad there's not more of a place for the good woman (Angela Bassett, whose part as Diane is miniscule) here.
For other works Frank Oz is involved in, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Muppet Christmas Carol
The Star Wars Saga
For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page by clicking here!
© 2012, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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