The Score

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The Score

With a cast headed by Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, and Angela Bassett, The Score looks so much like an event that the film itself feels like a practical joke, or the answer to a theoretical question: What if a world-class cast teamed up for a heist film so modest in its ambitions that it almost refuses to stick to the celluloid? So it is with the engaging but minor The Score, in which De Niro plays a Montreal-based master thief and jazz-club owner who postpones his retirement after getting lured back into the game with the promise of one last big score. Jovial underworld figure Brando does the luring, backed by an ambitious inside man (Norton) who gathers information while in the guise of a retarded janitor. Clearly a fan of Rififi, director Frank Oz sits back and lets the preparations for the job, and its eventual execution, carry the film along. From the acting to the climactic set piece, everything about The Score works, but never more than it needs to. Norton, De Niro, and Brando are, of course, pleasures to watch, but even in their hands, their characters feel undernourished. (Not nearly as undernourished, however, as that of Bassett, whose brief appearance almost qualifies as a cameo.) The film places its leads in a no-win situation: Burdened by the heightened expectations of their pairing, De Niro and Brando would practically have to paint Guernica while tap-dancing to avoid disappointing. Instead, their scenes are pleasantly underplayed, creating a nice give-and-take that, inevitably, registers as an anticlimax. Sensing an opening, Norton goes at his multi-persona role full throttle. While he doesn't quite steal the picture, it's only because of his co-stars' almost cosmic gravity. But gravity and good casting can only take a film so far, and Oz never takes it the rest of the way. The heist itself is well crafted but overly familiar, and the film as a whole has the air of a missed opportunity, a historic assemblage of three generations of leading men for a film that doesn't quite know what to do with them.

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