Sunday, March 29, 2020

Director Frank Oz Delivers Some More Solid Entertainment With The Score

His work for the Muppets tends to gain greater precedence in terms of his public profile but Frank Oz has managed to have quite the solid directorial track record. Looking over his Wikipedia page, I was impressed with how many iconic films he's managed to helm. I knew that he directed one of my favorite musicals ever, Little Shop of Horrors, but who knew that he was also responsible for highly well-regarded comedies like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, In & Out and Bowfinger? Guy's done quite well for himself in his nearly forty years of directing and that includes his work helming the solid heist thriller The Score.

The Score centers on heist expert Nick Wells (Robert De Niro), who's looking to retire from this game now and focus full-time on both his club and girlfriend Diane (Angela Bassett). However, an employer, Max (Marlon Brando), is wearing him down to take on a major job stealing a scepter located in a nearby warehouse. Eventually, Wells decides to take on the gig, which forces him to partner up with Jack Teller (Edward Norton). Teller's got the intel on the layout of this warehouse. Wells has to know-how to pull off a heist flawlessly. Together, they just might be able to pull this off. Considering this is a heist movie, though, expect some complications to emerge.

The Score is a great example of a movie that gets the job done. This isn't a life-changing motion picture but it does just fine in terms of killing two hours on a Saturday. If this movie was just now coming out into theaters, I'd say it wasn't an essential see for everybody but that it was worth a $9 movie ticket (or however much movies cost in July 2011) for heist movie fans. Partially, this is because The Score's screenplay (credited to a quartet of writers, including Lem Dobbs) is a tight machine. There's an unenjoyable lack of excess in here. The story doesn't go down narrative dead end's that don't accomplish anything beyond eating up screentime nor are there poorly-executed twists that exist simply for the sake of having twists.

Instead, The Score gets straight to the point. It makes the character dynamics clear and the inevitable plot turns feel like organic extensions of who the characters are rather than just gratuitous melodrama. Best of all, and this is extremely important for any heist movie, the eventual heist is actually pretty fun to watch. The Score has efficiently set up the stakes and seemingly insurmountable obstacles for the two lead characters to face. Now the viewer gets the fun of watching this duo navigate a labyrinth of trickery in their pursuit of a scepter. Editor Richard Pearson keeps the scene moving nicely and the tension palpable while it's a lot of fun to watch Robert De Niro romp around in a stealth outfit that makes him look like Night Monkey.

The Score doesn't really do enough in terms of establishing truly unique characters or themes to take it to the next level of quality. Thankfully, even if it's a basic heist movie, it's a fun enough version of that mold and one executed with well-crafted editing and direction. Plus, the final twists, even if you can predict them, are still fun to watch. Maybe it's just the seemingly permanent self-isolation getting into my brain but I couldn't really complain The Score's lack of distinctiveness considering that I found it diverting more often than enough. Sometimes competency is just enough, especially when you've got a cast like this one to carry things home.

Among that cast is Marlon Brando in his final film appearance (unless somebody, someday, finishes up Big Bug Man). Some parts of his performance are rife with the random eccentricities that marked so many of Brando's final acting roles. But his last big sequence in The Score where he comes clean about his real motivations for the heist reveals a surprisingly raw depiction of vulnerability from Brando. The guy who once bellowed "STELLA!" and intimidated viewers across the globe now uses his talents as an actor to depict an elderly gangster whose so meek, so desperate, so lowly. It's a scene that proves to be one of the best highlights of The Score, a heist film that can chalk up much of its amiable nature to director Frank Oz.

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