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THE SCORE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton, Angela Bassett, Marlon Brando
Director: Frank Oz
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 124 Minutes
Release Date: December 11, 2001

“If I do this, my end has gotta be six million.”

“Uh, operator, I got a nut down here that just said he needed six million. Are you alright?”

Film ****

2001 has somewhat been the year of the heist movie. Earlier this year, there was the violent thrill ride 3000 Miles to Graceland, and at your local multiplex, you’re likely to find both David Mamet’s Heist and Steven Soderbergh’s much anticipated remake of Ocean’s Eleven, each tells a plot of a group of professional thieves looking to knock over something extremely valuable, and then retire from the business for good. The plotline is familiar indeed, and The Score carries the same formula, but this is an extremely remarkable production, glowing with superb style, three brilliant performances from three generations of brilliant acting, and a unique feel of setup and execution in its heist plot that is nothing short of superb. You have to admit that on the surface, any film with the ability to bring together Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, and Marlon Brando would instantly garner a must see quality.

Frank Oz, better known as a veteran of Jim Henson’s Muppet troupe, as well as director of memorable comedies like Bowfinger and In and Out, crafts a masterful piece set in Montreal, a truly inspired setting. Nick Wells (De Niro) is a jazz club owner who has gotten to where he is in life thanks to his second job, which is a slick as can be professional thief. The opening scene shows Nick at work at cracking a safe in a dark living room in the midst of a party gathering. Nick is pressured by his girlfriend Diane (Angela Bassett) into leaving the stealing business and settling down. At the same time, Nick is confronted by his longtime friend, Max (Brando), a local Montreal crime lord, who wants Nick to take part in one last job, which is to steal a priceless gold antique from the Customs House.

In addition to wanting to quit the business, Nick is given another thorn in his side, which is to work with a partner, something Nick has never agreed to do in his 25 years in the business. Max has a contact in the Customs House named Jack (Edward Norton). In order to successfully case the Customs House, Jack is employed there under the façade of a mentally retarded janitor named Brian. What follows is some knockout exhibition as we, along with the two thieves, get a precise tour of just how secure and impenetrable the Customs House actually is, as well as a tour of the dark tunnels located right below the building, providing a perfect entering and escape route. A standout moment is when Nick and Jack meet discreetly in a public park with a paranoid cyber their who is selling them bypass codes for the security system.

When the heist sequence itself kicks in, the movie ignites an enormous level of suspense and involvement. We see Nick infiltrate and make his way around perhaps the most intricately secured area since Tom Cruise dangled by ropes in the CIA vault in Mission Impossible. What follows is knockout series of twists and turns, as the participants start to wear out their trust of one another, letting their egos get in the way. A final revelation scene that follows that is startling and breathtaking.

A lavish production, a wonderfully executed plot, and the combination of three brilliant actors from three generations blend together to make The Score not only one of this year’s best films, but one of the best heist movies since perhaps Heat, another classic De Niro movie.

Video ****

Paramount scores yet again with another remarkable video transfer. The anamorphic presentation glows from scene one, with complete sharpness and terrifically vibrant colors. Many key sequences in the movie take place either at night or in dark settings, such as the tunnels, which also turn out impressively good. Many outdoor exterior shots of downtown Montreal are particularly striking, displaying richness and beautiful colorization. The Score is another knockout entry in a long list of terrific Paramount transfers.

Audio ***

A nicely subtle digital audio presentation for a film that is mostly dialogue driven. The 5.1 presentation really pays off in two separate areas, which are numerous jazz numbers in scenes taking place in Nick’s club, and the climatic heist sequence which does a neat job of picking up discreet sounds from just about every possible position. A simple and good enough sounding presentation.

Features ***

A neat little array of extras as Paramount includes a trailer for the movie, as well as an informative behind the scenes featurette, some additional footage including a monumental moment of improvisation from De Niro and Brando, and a nice commentary from Frank Oz and director of photography Rob Hahn.

Summary:

The Score is masterful work of plot and acting, as perfected by acting legends De Niro, Norton and Brando. Credit to them and to director Frank Oz for illustrating his talent for going beyond the comedy genre and creating a superb, involving piece of movie suspense.