- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

"The Score" comes along amid the debris of many summer adventure thrillers and demonstrates how less sensation can add up to more entertainment value. Director Frank Oz and his colleagues are content to cool it: no pointless or flashy car chases, no pitched battles and little gunplay. The movie has only one essential explosion, and a novelty explosion at that.
This admirable restraint works to the advantage of a cleverly diverting suspense melodrama about a rivalry between incompatible accomplices. The movie chooses sides quite frankly and celebrates the know-how and intuition of Robert De Niro as a wily safecracker named Nick Wells. His character must finesse an exotic theft of a precious object tucked deep inside the Montreal Customs House.
The most oversized aspect of "The Score" happens to be a serendipitous performance: Marlon Brando, looking as big as a house but exuding irresistible bonhomie as Nick's friend, mentor and fence. This obesely dapper figure, named Max, seems to lack a last name. Viewers might want to call him Gutman, recalling Sydney Greenstreet's magnificent Kasper Gutman in "The Maltese Falcon." The association comes to mind not only because of their bulk and good humor. The treasure Nick agrees to snatch from a huge vault inside an electronically booby-trapped cage is in the nature of a Maltese scepter.
Max isn't entirely forthcoming or benevolent while recruiting Nick for this multimillion-dollar caper. He realizes he is imposing on friendship at a very inconsiderate point: Nick has promised girlfriend, Diane (Angela Bassett), that he will retire from criminal free-lancing and devote himself to managing an elegant jazz club in Montreal. One of Nick's precautionary doctrines has been to avoid any robberies in his adopted hometown. Indeed, the prologue underlines his preference for operating illegally on the other side of the border while also establishing his aversion to violence and his flair for eluding tight spots.
But Max is the soul of candor and trustworthiness compared with the brash whippersnapper who has envisioned the theft and requires a master safecracker to pull it off. This is Jackie Teller (Edward Norton), a smarty-pants who keeps provoking Nick to pin his ears back, sooner or later. The plot makes it seemingly impossible for Nick to extricate himself from a job that depends on Jackie's devious participation as the inside man — he has been casing the joint while posing as a harmless simpleton called Brian, employed as a night-shift janitor at the Customs House.
Nick dislikes the idea of any caper with Jackie. He even sics a bodyguard on the upstart, but the bodyguard is the one who gets roughed up. Nick and Jackie are temperamental and generational opposites, and something will have to give when the robbery is under way. What the filmmakers succeed in playing close to the vest is the precise set of circumstances that will settle the issue once both men are operating inside the robbery site. As a matter of fact, the issue is kept adroitly in doubt almost to the fade-out.
This is an exceptionally attractive production. Mr. Oz evidently wanted to evoke the look of Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" while shooting in color. I'm not sure the pictorial associations are persuasive, aside from Mr. Brando's size duplicating the sheer poundage of Mr. Welles in 1958. "The Source" does look terrific, however, often when emphasizing light sources in the depth of the settings and compositions. Montreal, used to scenic advantage without obvious emphasis on the picturesque, is an invaluable scenic enhancement. Essentially, "The Score" endears itself as a civilized crime thriller, as inviting and stylish as one of its principal settings, Nick's jazz club.

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