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Score (2001) (4K Ultra HD), The
Please note that the following movie review was originally written in 2010 for the film's Blu-ray release. My comments still represent my take on the film but I have adjusted the replay value upward a half star.
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 (now two decades 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 4K ULTRA HD:
I was not particularly impressed with the picture quality on the original Blu-ray release from 2010 but Kino's 4K Ultra HD release is a huge improvement. The 2.35:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer is from a native 4K source and offers Dolby Vision and HDR10. Cinematographer Rob Hahn approved this transfer, and gone are the digital-tinkering effects and edge enhancement of the older release. What once was smeary and dull is now crisp, detailed and filmic. Fine-object detail is abundant; every heist tool and safe is visible in its intricacies. Outdoor shots are deep and clear; indoor shots look excellent, even in low-light situations. Black levels are inky, shadow detail is abundant, and colors are nicely saturated. The HDR pass offers pleasing color reproduction without going overboard; and highlights are kept in check. Grain is beautifully resolved and natural. Overall, this is a very significant upgrade.
The disc has a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track this go-round (the Blu-ray had a Dolby TrueHD mix) and it is of similarly good quality. 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. An English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also included, as are English SDH subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the 4K disc and a Blu-ray. The discs are packed in a black 4K case that is wrapped in a slipcover. Extras carry over from previous releases and all, with the exception of the commentary that appears on both discs, are found on the Blu-ray. 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/SD) is little more than EPK fluff, but the additional footage (8:00/SD) features some nice Brando improv. The film's theatrical trailer (2:30/HD) 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 4K from Kino with a new transfer, 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. Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.