Review: Another Score for DeNiro, Norton and Brando

The Score is everything a heist film should be with the added bonus of the best actors from three Hollywood generations. Their presence bolsters the film but doesn't overwhelm it. Director Frank Oz moves with subtlety and clarity, allowing the details of the heist to drive the plot. When the closing scene comes, we know exactly how three criminals stole a priceless golden sceptre from the most secured building in Quebec.


Norton and De Niro plan the finer details of their daring heist despite an underlying tension between the two characters.
photo: Courtesy Tatra Film

The Score

(Kto z koho)

Running time: 124 minutes
Starring: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Marlin Brando
Rating: 8 out of 10
See page 11 for movie times in Bratislava

The Score is everything a heist film should be with the added bonus of the best actors from three Hollywood generations. Their presence bolsters the film but doesn't overwhelm it. Director Frank Oz moves with subtlety and clarity, allowing the details of the heist to drive the plot. When the closing scene comes, we know exactly how three criminals stole a priceless golden sceptre from the most secured building in Quebec.

Robert De Niro plays Nick, a Montreal jazz club owner and weekend cat burglar. He is more bourgeois than criminal, studying security manuals in the evening, keeping an immaculate workshop of safe-cracking gadgets, never taking a risky job and never, ever, "pissing in his own pond" (doing a job near Montreal).

But now his fence and friend Max (Brando) wants him to rob the Montreal custom's house, where an invaluable French sceptre is being held. He's offering four million dollars, enough money for Nick to pay off the mortgage on his club, retire and marry his girlfriend. Max claims it will be easy because he has a man on the inside of the custom's house, Jack (Norton), a con artist posing as a night-shift janitor with a severe mental handicap.

In a funny scene early on Jack fools Nick with his mentally-handicapped routine by asking him directions on the street. This is intended to impress Nick, but only angers him. He thinks his Montreal cover has been compromised and doesn't trust Jack. Only after Jack beats up a goon sent to intimidate him does Nick consider, then enter, the scheme.

All of The Score's actors - including Angela Basset and Gary Farmer in supporting roles - inhabit their characters without overdoing them. De Niro is subdued in comparison to his performances Goodfellas or Casino. He plays Nick as a nearly ordinary guy, cooking pasta for his girlfriend, managing his club. With his character toned down, The Score has a more realistic and subtler feel than most Hollywood crime films.

Norton plays Jack with a sort of easy charisma that reveals glimpses of something - youthful enthusiasm or malice - bubbling under the surface. During a meeting to exchange money in a park, his adversary arrives with a thug, calling him "my cousin". Jack remains cool, nodding at a park bench and saying, "You see that guy over there, he's my cousin. So we've all got family here."

Norton has a way of suggesting important character traits with facial expressions and tone of voice. During one planning session, Jack and Nick have a disagreement. Jack concedes, but in the same instant a look of contempt flashes through his face. That look, which lasts only a second and is supported by nothing else in the film, establishes an undercurrent of resentment that becomes clear later.

Director Frank Oz and screenwriter Kario Salem handle the heist scenes with even-handed suspense. All the important details are explained - how codes are cracked, cameras are circumvented and infrared sensors dismantled - with just the right number of hitches and close calls.

Many films involving breaking into a safe show a muscley character with drills, hammers and rubber explosives. Tension is created by ticking clocks and pulsating music.

Here the properties of the safe are explained thoroughly beforehand. Nick devises a method of beating the safe that is ingenuous and believable.

"It's just physics," he says. The suspense comes from waiting to see it in action.

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