DeNiro! Brando! Edward Norton! Take three powerhouse actors — one a bona fide legend and one virtually a legend — and put them in a film directed by … Frank Oz? Oz is a competent-enough director with a string of moderately successful, but decidedly undistinguished, films to his credit. And if The Score is his bid to really distinguish himself, it’s a case of “better luck next time.” When Mandalay Pictures bought the rights to first-timer Daniel E. Taylor’s screenplay, they presumably saw something worthwhile in it. But if whatever that hook was ever there, it didn’t survive its transformation into a different screenplay by Kario Salem (Don King: Only in America), Lem Dobbs (The Limey) and Scott Marshall Smith (Men of Honor). The final script is an almost mind-numbingly familiar set of heist-film clichés strung together in the most familiar manner imaginable. Possibly, it was thought that the film’s attention to the smaller details of the heist would make it fresh. In fact, the somewhat tedious attention to detail only serves to make the film seem longer. A stronger director might have pulled this together by doing something to enliven the material. Oz is content to let the script do the work. A visual stylist might have given the film a truly distinctive look. Apart from a fine use of wide-screen composition in an early scene between DeNiro and Angela Bassett, the extent of Oz’s visual efforts lies in his fixation with showers of sparks whenever DeNiro uses an acetylene torch on metal. (Oz is so taken with how this looks that his overindulgence in it becomes almost comical to the point that all I could think of was Peter Cook handing Dudley Moore a sparkler at one point in the original Bedazzled. “What’s this for?” asks Moore. “Nothing. Just adds a bit of visual excitement,” explains Cook.) What we’re left with is competent direction of a so-so screenplay and some amazingly larger-than-life talent in front of the camera. The three stars at least make the film have the courage of their convictions, but they can only do so much. DeNiro is incapable of giving an indifferent performance and he does what he can with the role of an aging master thief torn between doing one final job that will leave him set for life and save the life of his mentor (Brando), or following the wishes of the woman who loves him (Angela Bassett) and getting out of the rackets at once. (Believe it or not, this old chestnut actually is the plot of The Score.) He and Brando have a remarkable screen chemistry, too. It’s easy to believe that their characters have a history stretching back 20-odd years. They seem so utterly in tune with each other and effortlessly make their relationship real. Unfortunately, Brando (who also gets the film’s best lines) is only in seven or eight scenes spaced throughout the movie. An often overrated actor with a fairly limited range, Brando here overcomes the shortcomings of both script and direction and justifies much of his reputation. Toward the end of the film, he has a close-up where he hears a piece of good news on the TV news and in this one silent moment conveys a broader spectrum of genuine emotion than most actors can manage in an entire film. Edward Norton is good, too, but he not only lacks the chemistry of the elder statesmen, he has the most shoddily conceived role in the film. The script tells us what his motivations are, but neither the writing nor Norton manage to make us believe in their reality. Angela Bassett has such a thankless role that she almost might as well not be in the movie — and she almost isn’t, having less screen time than Brando. It’s a competently made thriller with good work by the leads, excellent cinematography, a fine Howard Shore score and some nice uses of jazz-club music on the soundtrack, but the ultimate feeling is that a lot of talent is being squandered on something that really isn’t worth the bother.
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