July 18, 2001 -- "The Score" is a caper movie featuring big-time talent hampered by a drowsy story line. The talent is terrific, with Robert De Niro ("Meet the Parents"), Edward Norton ("Fight Club"), Angela Bassett ("How Stella Got Her Groove Back"), Gary Farmer ("Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai"), and a rare appearance by none other than the great one himself, Marlon Brando ("On the Waterfront," "The Godfather," "Last Tango in Paris," "The Freshman").
Unfortunately, the story is a little tedious and not very compelling. It seems to be leading up to a big payoff, but it turns out to be more like a bottle rocket than the 12-inch fireworks shell you would expect from a caper movie with this kind of talent and this kind of buildup.
The story has safecracker Nick Wells (De Niro) facing a mid-life crisis. He wants to finally grow up and settle down with his girlfriend (Bassett), but she won't commit unless he gives up his life of crime. This should be no problem, because Nick owns his own business, a jazz nightclub. However, Nick gets pulled into one last big score to pay off the loan on his club and to help out an old friend, Max Baron (Brando). A brash young newcomer, Jackie Teller (Norton) has an idea to steal a priceless scepter from a customs house.
The story starts out with one caper and most of the rest of the film leads up to the second caper, the planning, the in-fighting, the squabbles, the complications, technical problems, and other stuff. It just goes on and on, without any action and without a whole lot of drama. Then comes the big caper. It sort of reminded me of that old song, "Is That all There is?" It is an acceptable caper and there is a bit of a twist to the ending, which is not entirely believable, by the way, but it sure doesn't live up to the big buildup.
Yes, there are great actors, but even great actors need great lines, and the lines are not as good as the actors in this film. The characterizations are inconsistent. Characters behave in ways contrary to their nature, and to their best interests. Brando has one nice scene where he tries to persuade Nick not to pull out of the heist. He's got too much pride to beg, so he finds a way to beg and still keep some of his pride. The performance is reminiscent of Al Pacino's heartbreaking scene at the end of "Goodfellas." Brando shows us a crook who knows he is in big trouble, and that he has only himself to blame for it. He is willing to face the consequences of his own actions, if it comes to that. He'd still like to wiggle out of trouble if he can. He's sort of a loveable scoundrel.
De Niro portrays a man who plays it safe. He plays the percentages. Events conspire to make him take some big chances, but those events, circumstances and arguments just don't seem quite convincing. Norton's and Bassett's characters are more straightforward, at least for most of the film. Jackie Teller is cocky, brash, conceited and greedy. He feels he is not getting the credit he deserves for setting up the caper. Near the end of the film, however, Teller's character suddenly changes. To the extent the film is not character-driven, it doesn't work. This film rates a C.
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Don't read any further if you haven't seen the film and don't want the ending spoiled:
At the end of the film, Norton's character suddenly looses his edge when he finds out he has been outfoxed. He simply gives up on the multi-million dollar score. It would have been more in character for Norton to head back to Nick's place and confront him, or wait for him there and rob him when he got home. It doesn't seem likely he would give up so easily. Despite the circumstances, it seems out of character for him to just fade away so meekly.