Reviewed by Tom from Digital Shortbread
Given that the goal here is to come up with a post about a Robert De Niro film, one that I haven’t seen before, my options were wide open. Shame on me, I know, for having such limited experience with the great DeNiro’s extensive catalog. However, it provided the perfect opportunity for me to give Frank Oz’s turn-of-the-21st-century caper/thriller, The Score a whirl. The film, also starring Edward Norton and Marlon Brando, was widely touted as a project to feature “three generations of legendary big screen performers.” I suppose this relatively bland affair needs some kind of distinction, and that seems to be about as good as any.
As it turns out, Oz’s film is a somewhat entertaining two-hours, though it may be difficult to shake the feeling afterwards that it could have been a more compelling watch, considering the star talent on display. With all of this said, The Score is not a bad movie. It’s simply not one that will rack up too many points for DeNiro’s already well-established career.
Well, let’s see. First things first. DeNiro is going to be a little tougher to treat as king here since his part, while obviously substantial and crucial to the film, is not the most electrifying he’s ever undertaken. In fact, he downplays his safe-cracking Nick Wells to the point where one might think this is what DeNiro does on a night off just for shits and giggles. Indeed, he is convincing in his role yet again but is he much fun to watch go through the motions here? The answer to that, unfortunately, is no.
I’m not going to lie, at first that phrase “going through the motions” was used as a literal statement — about his character going through some of the ridiculous things he has to do in this movie — but the more I think about it, that phrase also applies figuratively-speaking as well. DeNiro does feel like he’s going through the motions, acting almost on autopilot as this really calm, cool and collected guy who knows exactly what he wants and who has the means of obtaining it. Never work with anyone else and never rob a building in the city in which you live. Nick lives by those two personal rules of high-risk thievery; that is, until the day he is coerced into doing one last job with somebody, at the request of his 25-year-long business partner, Max (Brando). The somebody is a highly technically proficient thief named Jackie Teller (Norton), who in stark contrast to Nick, is quick to emotion. Together, they aim to steal a priceless historical artifact from an unbelievably well-protected safe which possesses locking technology that neither Nick nor Jackie have worked with before.
The story may be anchored by strong leads in DeNiro, Norton and Brando but it’s a shame it can’t do much other than tread through very predictable territory. Ironically, predictability is not really something you want when creating supposedly an original crime caper. It’s an easy route to go by though, sure. Too many times it feels like story developments are hacked right out of Mission: Impossible and The Thomas Crown Affair, with only a few scenes mixed up in between that feel inspired. However, one thing that is not missing from this film is tension — perhaps THE most fundamental ingredient when concocting this kind of story. It also suitably builds towards a mostly satisfying conclusion, as we see the heist actually getting pulled off (but do the baddies get away with it all??) and the consequences and stakes being raised every minute that passes.
The tension is created in a few sparse moments of concerns exchanged between out-the-door thief Nick and Max, who finds himself in a tough spot with respect to his higher-ups. The legendary actors in these scenes are entirely responsible for the script coming to life in these moments.
Realizing this is a page for DeNiro gushing, the fact still cannot be overlooked about just how good Edward Norton is, though. DeNiro looks bored in comparison to how much fun Norton seems to be having. His character has dual identities: one as Jackie, the thief who works alongside Nick Wells, and the other is a mentally-handicapped custodian by the name of Brian, a personality Jackie adopts in order to gain valuable insight into the facility the two plan to rob. Norton is simply brilliant as he juggles the two sides to this complex character. It’s safe to say that without this fascinating and at times even humorous side story, The Score would undoubtedly be lower. It’s also a great deal of fun realizing the entire time that only certain truths are made available to each player in the game, and that’s as much as I can say without revealing major spoilers. Consider my lips sealed. . . now.
Recommendation: This film from the early 2000s has eluded me for over a decade, and now I can understand why. I’m quite confident that many of the diehards out there have already admitted that this wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing you would turn to when thinking of classic Robert DeNiro. It’s certainly not vintage, but it’s also not terrible either. It’s stationed in purgatory — destined forever to simply be an “alright Robert DeNiro film.” The slow pace that kicks this movie off does not make it an easy one to commit to, but it’s somewhat worthy of your time once we can get into the specifics of the plan, and better yet, the execution thereof. However, don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything if you haven’t checked this out yet.