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If Marlon Brando had known the day he would die, he might have found the perfect film to embody his incredible career and serve as his final gift to the silver screen. This was not the case, and Brando appeared on film for the final time nearly a decade ago in The Score, director Frank Oz's slow-burn heist flick about the last job of a career thief. The film is not the eulogy Brando deserved, but it is commendable for its unique, if not altogether successful, take on the genre.
Professional thief and nightclub owner Nick Wells (Robert De Niro) is ready to settle down with his girlfriend (Angela Bassett) and run his legitimate business. Longtime confidant Max (Brando) offers Nick one last big payday on which to sail into retirement. The target is a French scepter on lockdown in the Montreal Customs House, and Nick pairs up with cocky young thief Jack Teller (Edward Norton), who is posing as a mentally handicapped night janitor at the building. Along with a near-impossible entry into the vault, the pair must deal with increased surveillance put in place especially to guard the scepter.
Despite a synopsis reminiscent of Mission: Impossible, the film is the antithesis of such blockbuster crime thrillers. Instead, The Score focuses almost exclusively on the planning and execution of the heist. With the jazzy, relaxed delivery of Nick's nightclub, the film pours over the procedural intricacies of pilfering a valuable artifact. Tension slowly mounts as Nick and Jack scrutinize every detail, from security codes to video surveillance.
Director Oz (The Dark Crystal) mentions on the film's commentary that he set out to make a character study. In that respect he was not very successful, as the leads are little more than generalities - Nick the hardened veteran and Jack the impatient rookie, both suspicious of the other. What is successful is the study of the process. Written down, the film's action could be described in several sentences; a paragraph at most. But on film, the inactivity is not a detriment. Had it been paired with better character exploration, The Score could have been a classic.
Filmed just before De Niro got old and Norton got difficult, The Score captures three generations of fine actors in one place. It is difficult to see Brando bloated and sweating, playing alongside the man who shared his character in The Godfather Trilogy. Even so, De Niro and Brando share a memorable improvised scene at Nick's nightclub in which traces of classic Brando are present. Oz was reportedly not keen on Brando's acting style, and Brando in turn refused to be on set if Oz was present. De Niro apparently had to direct scenes with Brando while getting Oz's instructions through another crewmember.
Nearly all the parts required to make a successful film are present in The Score. The measured drive toward the film's heist is satisfying, as is Oz's decision to make the film more about the method than the payoff. Had the script given the characters some depth that the actors could have coupled with their fine performances, audiences might better remember The Score today.
The Score Blu-ray is currently only available at Best Buy.
The Score comes packaged in a blue eco-case, sporting the same artwork as the DVD. The disc's boring, static menus also replicate this image.
Paramount brings The Score to Blu-ray with an average AVC 1080p transfer. The Blu-ray handles the film's subdued color palette well, though skin tones seem a touch pink. Detail varies, but on the whole the film looks rather flat. This lack of detail is especially apparent in close-ups, which often lack a film-like appearance. The culprit is likely a combination of some digital processing, an older master and the director's filming style. Blacks are nice and deep in some scenes but become crushing in others. The Blu-ray is a definite improvement over the DVD, but, while some scenes do look impressive, it is inconsistent overall.
The film's English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack fares better than the picture. Dialogue is crisp and well-balanced, and Howard Shore's jazzy orchestral score wafts throughout the sound field. The effects of the heist appear all around, and the track effectively places viewers into the environment. French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are available, as are a plethora of subtitle options. There's little to complain about here.
The Blu-ray includes previously available extras and nothing more. Director Oz and Director of Photography Rob Hahn provide the film's commentary. The track is technical but interesting, though it would have been enlightening to hear Oz really let loose about working with De Niro, Norton and Brando. The Making of The Score (12:26) is little more than EPK fluff, but the additional footage (8:00) features some nice Brando improv. The film's theatrical trailer is the only extra presented in high definition.
Despite performing well at the box office, The Score failed to make much of an emotional impact in 2001. Now available on Blu-ray, the film excels at planning a heist, but comes up short on character development. Movie buffs will want to own Marlon Brando's final film, and fans of crime dramas should find it enjoyable. Paramount's Blu-ray is not demo material but still comes solidly Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.