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SCORE, THE(director: Frank Oz; screenwriters: Lem Dobbs/Kario Salem/Scott Marshall Smith/original story by Daniel Taylor; cinematographer: Rob Hahn; editor: Richard Pearson; cast: Angela Bassett (Diane), Marlon Brando (Max), Robert De Niro (Nick Wells), Edward Norton (Jackie Teller/Brian), Gary Farmer (Burt), Paul Soles (Danny), Jamie Harrold (Stephen); Runtime: 123; Paramount Pictures; 2001)
“An old-fashioned heist movie. “

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An old-fashioned heist movie. It covers familiar ground yet manages to make its shopworn story fresh, but does not break new ground. Besides having a tight script, it has three terrific actors who cover three different generations. There’s the 77-year-old Marlon Brando as Max; the middle-aged Robert De Niro as Nick; and, the young up-and-coming star Edward Norton as Jackie.

The director, Frank Oz (“Bowfinger”), a onetime Muppeteer whose main body of work has been comedy, deserves credit for keeping the action suspenseful and the long scenes without dialogue interesting. There seemed to always be something intriguing going on.

The stylish Nick operates a jazz club in Montreal, has a beautiful stewardess girlfriend Diane (Bassett), and for the last 25 years only cracks safes that are not in Montreal. He promises Diane that this will be his last heist and he will retire to live with her legally as man and wife. She kisses him tenderly, otherwise her role is insignificant through no fault of hers.

Nick’s contact man is the rotund crime boss, Max, who has set him up with deals for all those years. He comes to him with a big deal, something he is willing to pay him 4 million dollars for. He’s to heist an invaluable scepter from the coronation of a French queen in 1661 and he’s to work with an ‘inside man’ on the job named Jackie. The inside contact, Bryan, works as a retarded janitor in the impenetrable Montreal Customs House. That happens to be the place where the treasure is stored.

The three main characters are perfect in their understated performances: The plodding, close-mouthed Nick wants the one big score to retire in style and pay the mortgage off on his jazz club; Max can’t do things himself anymore, so he has to lie then beg Nick to do this job, as otherwise the city’s crime boss will kill him for not paying off his huge debts. Jackie is a brash, intense and cocky loner, who gets off on the wrong side of Nick by trying to fool him with his spastic Brian routine and for later on carrying a gun when they buy security information from a hacker.

Nick has his own reliable team to work with: there’s a nerdy hacker named Stephen (Jamie Harrold), who lives in his cyberspace-designed basement and constantly has a nagging mother shouting down to the basement for him to come up for air. Nick’s security man is the burly Burt (Gary Farmer), who has a close and trusted relationship with his boss.

Most of the thrills come by way of the heist and the mechanics of it, and the possibility of double-crosses and foul-ups. It all depends on Jackie and Nick working together as a team, and if they can get the scepter out of its secure safe in the basement of the Customs House without being spotted by the elaborate security system in place. Nick must also make it through a labyrinth of tunnels to escape, while Jackie/Brian must keep his supervising janitor (Soles) away from the scene of the crime.

“The Score” does what it sets out to do. It leaves no messages and no unnecessary violence and it holds one’s attention for the two hours it plays. It had three notable actors and was a solid effort. It only lacked imagination. Everyone in on the caper could have been in on a venture capital deal just as easily as on a heist.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”