Three generations of acclaimed actors team up in The Score, an intriguing crime thriller that marks the first time that legendary Oscar®-winners Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando have shared the screen. Also starring Oscar®-nominee Edward Norton, The Score wowed critics and audiences alike.
When expert safecracker Nick Wells (DeNiro) decides it might be time to settle down with his girlfriend Diane (Oscar®-nominee Angela Bassett) and stick to his legitimate business, running a jazz nightclub in Montreal, his friend and partner Max (Brando) has other plans. Heavily in debt to a crime boss, Max needs Nick to pull one last heist: help novice thief Jack Teller (Norton) steal a scepter worth $30 million form the House of Customs. Tempted by the $6 million payday, Nick reluctantly agrees to do the job. But what starts out as a safe bet turns into a high risk gamble when a clash of egos threatens to bring them all down.
Heist movies in today's Hollywood seem to play out more like the remake of 'The Italian Job.' That's not to say 'The Italian Job' was a bad flick, but it's just far too predictable for its own good. The entire movie revolves around the quickly cut action and chase scenes, which take precedence over the team dynamics, and character interactions. Maybe that's why I like 'The Score' so much. It's low-key in its approach to the big heist, but still manages to create an air of suspense.
Nick Wells (Robert De Niro) is a careful and meticulous thief. He spends his time in Canada where he has a nice apartment, a great little jazz club, and a beautiful girlfriend (Angela Bassett). After a very close call during the beginning of the film as Nick is relieving a household of their priceless diamonds, he figures maybe this is the time to give up this lifestyle. He's good at what he does, and if careful, he could do it forever, but factoring in his girlfriend, who hates his extra-curricular activities, one last job could set him up perfectly for retirement.
Isn't that always the case? One last job and then the lead character is going straight. He's going to live a regular life. That's about the only clichéd aspect of 'The Score.' The rest of the film, directed by Frank Oz, feels fresh, even though we have a good idea of what's going to happen.
Edward Norton brings swagger to the role of Jack Teller, an up-and-coming young thief who has been working on a huge score for the last three weeks. Constructing his own Verbal Kint persona, Teller gets hired on at the local customs house as a nighttime janitor with apparent mental and physical disabilities. Jack uses the name Brian at his job and has become loved by everyone who works there. Norton does a great job playing Brian without seeming offensive or unbelievable.
Nick and Jack butt heads more than once. Nick has been in the game a long time and has learned what an acceptable risk is. Jack flies by the seat of his pants hoping to come away from a huge gamble with a huge reward. 'The Score' doesn't reveal all its cards right at the beginning, it builds slowly but surely throughout the movie, one scene upon another. There's a scene where Jack and Nick have to meet some guys in a public park in order to exchange money and information with them. It's a scene that shouldn't be as tense as it is, but 'The Score' makes that scene as exciting as any chase scene out there. Oz's direction is slow and methodical, but you can see what it's building to.
'The Score' may not be bright and flashy, with explosions, car crashes, and gunfire, but it gets everything right. It works as a unassuming heist thriller with dynamite acting (check out Marlon Brando in one of his last roles). It's clever, discreet, and entertaining. It also has, for my money, the most interesting way to break into safe that I've ever seen in a film. That one scene has stuck with me for years, but even with how exciting that is, as De Niro explains coolly, it's "only physics." Such is 'The Score.' Never embellishing, but always creating a calm, collected, yet understated atmosphere. In short, this is one well-crafted film.
Paramount's release of 'The Score' in high definition remains somewhat of a jumble. Transferred to 1080p 'The Score' looks amazing some of the time, and mediocre other times. 'The Score' has a few strengths, one being the level of detail it produces when it tries. When De Niro is standing on the safe drilling into it with yellow and white sparks flying everywhere, the image looks downright great. On the other hand, zooming in on faces reveals a complete lack of fine detail. Faces look almost too smooth, pores are rarely visible. Bassett's hair seems to mesh together into a blob, instead of being alive with detail from each and every strand of hair.
Blacks are crushing. When De Niro walks into his club at the beginning to talk to his large friend, his face is gobbled up by the surrounding shadows. We're only left with a silhouette. Colors come across a little on the flat side, with even the greenery of Canada never seeming very lush or rich. To its credit though, the outside scenes on the city streets look really good, with great lighting and some good detail on towering buildings and cobbled streets. Skintones seem slightly off, like they should be a shade darker, but a fine haze has settled on the film making everything seem just a tad too murky. There's a shot of Brando at the end when he's watching TV that is just downright atrocious with shades of gray and purple run amok. This is a middling transfer at best. Nothing jumps out to me screaming high definition. There are those few scenes where De Niro is cutting through metal with a blow torch that look amazing, but other than that, the entire transfer for 'The Score' falls flat.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD fairs a little better in terms of quality than the video does, providing a well-rounded soundfield for out little caper film. Voices are presented clearly through the front channels which is nice because 'The Score' is heavy on the dialogue. The original music produced by Howard Shore fills the soundtrack with the intensity of an orchestra. The music bleeds into the rear speakers offering a full-bodied experience.
Effects are nicely placed and directionality plays a big part. During the blow torch scenes it sounds like you can hear sparks landing all around you. Ambient sound is produced, although slightly subdued, during the jazz club scenes that feature a fairly crowded restaurant with a live band performing. 'The Score' doesn't offer much in the way of high-octane chase scenes, or gigantic explosions, so those type of action sounds won't be found here. Instead, Shore's music plays a crucial role in helping us know when scenes are becoming intense, and when we should be paying attention. Besides the dialogue, I think that Shore's music is the most important part of this soundtrack and it's treated very well.
As far as heist movies go, 'The Score' is somewhere near the top. It features a slow burning plot that crackles with intensity. Bolstered by some great performances from De Niro, Norton, and Brando, this movie never had a chance to become second-rate. Sadly the video doesn't live up to showcasing the movie in the brightest light possible, but at least the sound is slightly better. The extras are lean, but that's to be expected for a catalog title. I'm still going to recommend 'The Score,' regardless of the less-than-stellar video presentation, just because it's such a great film.