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Film Review for July 27
The Score
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Frank Ozís The Score is now playing at the Aptos Cinemas, Riverfront Stadium Twin, Green Valley Cinema 6, State Cinemas, and Northridge Cinema.  Oz mostly directs comedy (In and Out was a wonderful, similarly star-studded, comic caper about being gay), and he gives this movie a few comic touches, though itís primarily a heist flick.  It has a great cast of men:  Robert De Niro plays Nick Wells, the protagonist of the film, a high class thief who also owns a jazz club in Montreal; Marlon Brando plays Max, Nickís friend and a Montreal crime lord who owes money to the even bigger bosses; and Edward Norton plays Jack or Brian, an alias personality who is a janitor in the customs house Jack and Nick are supposed to rob.  There is a fine actress too, but unfortunately her part is negligible:  Angela Bassett plays Diane, airline attendant and Nickís girlfriend. Jazz fans will appreciate the score of The Score as well as the cameo appearances by Mose Allison and Cassandra Wilson, among others. 

The first ten minutes of this film are fast-paced and breathless and do everything a good movie should by setting up the context, introducing us to Nick, and laying the groundwork for the story to follow.  But then, at least until the actual heist, it drags.  One would have thought that with these actors, even bad dialogue would be riveting, but no.  De Niro and Brando lack energy in these early scenes and itís really not till Norton makes his appearance that things start to get snappy again. And Norton does an absolutely fantastic job of playing his characters.  On the one hand he is Brian, a physically and mentally disabled young man who works as a janitor in the customs house; on the other he is Jack, a young bright thief who seems, apprentice-like, to want to learn from the master as they team up to steal a golden jewel-encrusted 17th century French scepter. The heist itself is gripping and takes up most of the movie.  Little dialogue, lots of suspense and intricate gadgetry. 

One does wonder how on earth these guys manage to make any money at what they do, given the mechanical, electronic, and even chemical overhead costs of their work, and itís true, they use a variety of implausibly complex methods to achieve their goal.  Oddly enough though, unlike ultra-modern heist stories that revel in state-of-the-art guns and electronics, this one more often than not relies on the good old-fashioned mechanical tools of the trade. The whole movie in fact seems to comment on the juxtaposition of old and new that is technologically foregrounded in the heist itself:  the city of Montreal, an old city, old-fashioned jazz, the older actors, along with the new: computers, a hacker (one of the best mini-scenes in the movie), and a younger male actor.

The old story at the heart of The Score is, then, a kind of generational complaint:  there ought to be honor among thieves, and the older guys know this.  Nick has a code of ethics, which we see in the very first scene:  he does not wound or kill if he can help itóin fact, he prefers not to carry weapons at all; he really loves his girlfriend and the finer things in life (good food, good music); he is loyal to his friends and co-workers; he knows his limits; and, of course, he wants to go clean.  Jack, on the other hand, epitomizes the reckless and amoral attitude of the younger generation with a dash of serious paranoia mixed in.  But if thatís the opposition that the movie sets upóand if, in its surprising denouement, it champions the older generation after allófor most of the film you kind of sympathize with the younger guyís ruthless impatience.  Theyíre thieves, after all, arenít they?

So, for a really suspenseful good time with some less-than-stellar acting by time-worn stars, go see The Score.  Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.

Copyright Carla Freccero 2001