Nick Wells, a professional criminal, decides to leave the business for good, since he nearly got caught on his last job. His plan is to live in peace with his girl Diane, running his Montreal jazz club. Soon afterward, Max, his good friend and financial partner, comes along with an offer Nick can't refuse: A historical and priceless French scepter has been discovered while being smuggled into the country. It is now under massive surveillance in the Montreal Customs House, and soon to be returned to France. Nick has to team up with Max's man inside, the young, talented and aggressive thief Jack Teller to get the precious item. Only one question remains: Who will trick whom out of their share? Written by
Yep, it's another clichéd script: Career cat burglar Nick (Robert De Niro, Meet the Parents) is about to take on a nearly impossible heist that requires his joining forces with a talented but brash young accomplice, Jackie (Edward Norton, American History X), whom he doesn't particularly like. The dubious alliance, arranged by Nick's longtime friend and fence, Max (Marlon Brando, Don Juan deMarco), throws a wrench into Nick's plan to retire from crime and settle down with his lady love, Diane (Angela Bassett, Supernova).
Uh-huh. The old, "One more job, then I'll retire," routine. But that's where the routine ends. The trio of brilliant lead actors transcend the plot, and overcome the sometimes sluggish direction (courtesy of Frank Oz, who did Bowfinger and many other comedies -- and children's flicks, such as The Indian in the Cupboard). It's an absolute pleasure from start to finish, just to watch and study these men -- but then, they could probably be taking turns reading the phone book and make it seem fascinating. (Angela Bassett is excellent too, but she is unfortunately relegated to the one-dimensional, obligatory "girlfriend role" here.)
The score is a big one: a 16th century royal scepter worth $30 million dollars. It's locked away in the basement of The Customs House in Montreal, Canada, and security is getting tighter by the day. Jackie infiltrates the House, posing as "Brian," a janitor afflicted with cerebral palsy. Norton is flawless in his dual roles (remember his schizo debut in Primal Fear?), and better still, he plays Brian as funny and endearing without ever creeping into caricature-ville. Meanwhile, Nick is figuring out how to bypass the ironclad security system and crack the uncrackable safe. DeNiro doesn't have a lot to do with his character, but what he was given, he runs with. He not only makes you believe the clichés, you like them, dammit. Brando is clearly having fun with his role -- one tailor-made just for him. "I wrote the part specifically for Brando," said co-writer Kario Salem. "I imagined him as a cross between Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams -- someone of great flamboyance and humor and wit and someone of great size, both literally and figuratively." Brando nails it all the way. (Interesting aside: the roles of Nick and Jackie were originally slated for Michael Douglas and Ben Affleck.)
The twist ending is given away a bit too early (but then there's another twist), and there isn't anything here we haven't seen before. However, with three generations of the world's best actors on the screen, The Score scores big.
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