Looking Back At THE SCORE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking Back At THE SCORE

Martin Rayburn knows The Score...
I've always had a thing for heist movies. People will often go straight to the 2001 remake of Ocean Eleven as a prime example of this genre, and I cannot deny it is right up there (unlike its sequels and the rule of diminishing returns/quality), but the same year gave us something of an overlooked gem from this genre of film-making. A movie which starred three generations of elite actors; Edward Norton, Robert DeNiro and, in what would be his final role, Marlon Brando. The three of them, along with the wonderful Angela Bassett, came together for Frank Oz's masterpiece, The Score.

DeNiro plays Nick, an owner of a jazz club in Montreal, Canada. He's a solid, tax-paying everyday citizen. He's also never met a safe he couldn't crack. At least in his own territory. Part of his success is that he's smart, and his extracurricular activities always take him across the border, to either the U.S. or Europe. At home, he's clean. And that's his cardinal rule: You live in your own country, but take down scores elsewhere. It's one of life's lessons that has served him well.
But Nick is forced to do one last score before his plan to fade into blissfully obscure retirement with girlfriend Diane, played by Bassett, can come to fruition, and as you may have realised it will take place in his own territory, at the Montréal Customs House. It's refreshing having a film actually set in Canada as so many shoot there and pretend it doubles up as either New York or L.A., but The Score is Canadian through and through and makes good use of the architecture of the city to set the tone. Plus, there's been many gambling films like Cold Deck, Lucky Girl, and Owning Mahowny, all set in Canadian real money casinos but the country proves to be a great locale for a heist movie setting, with The Score adequately showing that you don't need the Las Vegas glamour or the French South Riviera as a backdrop for a solid production.

Norton plays the characters of Jack (the man who investigated and set-up the heist from the beginning) and Brian (the man who works as a janitor at the building where the priceless scepter, a French national treasure stored in the ultra-secure basement of the Montréal Customs House, is kept, and who pretends to be mentally challenged to avoid drawing attention to himself). You can't help comparing these performances to his similar roles as Aaron and Roy in Primal Fear, and considering there were just a few years between these films, his role as Derek Vineyard in American History X and Jack in Fight Club, it's hard to argue against the hyperbole lauded on him during this era. He was, to some, the new Brando.

Talking of, in his brief screen-time Brando reminds the world of what a gigantic talent he was, and also what a gigantic, gigantic man he became. He plays the role of Max, the aging crime lord who has become wealthy and powerful enough so that he can preside over break-ins and take a cut of the final profit without doing any of the actual breaking and entering. The film follows the set-up and the execution of the heist as the three men plot to steal a French national treasure, and the plot becomes necessarily thicker as the movie goes on. It is a sign of skillful filmmaking when a two-hour picture spends the vast majority of its screen time setting up a heist that we don't see until very late into the film, and it still manages to move along briskly and keep the audience's attention.
The heist itself is particularly well done. After dealing with the sudden addition of motion detectors and cameras in the basement, several new difficulties come up even when the heist is in progress, including new revelations about the characters themselves. There is a scene where Jack leaves Nick hanging upside down from the ceiling in the basement, and there is really no apparent reason for him to have done this other than to let us know that Nick seems to have some questionable intentions.

The tension escalates more and more with every passing minute of the heist, and it seems at several points that something will go horribly wrong and force them to abort the entire thing but we know that it's too late for them to be able to do that. This leads to a finale which is truly respectable in that it avoids the traditional high action and manipulative shootouts and we get a great twist involving Jack and Nick. The specific details of the heist, the twists and resolution are all too spoilerific to discuss as The Score deserves to be seen cold of these plot details.

Overall, The Score comes highly recommended. Overlooked by many on release, as Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven basked in the limelight, this film went under the radar, but a good story, great performances, solid direction, and an excellent script make The Score a heist film to remember.

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