The Score (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Frank Oz can make pretty good movies when he isn't playing with puppets. Not only good ones, but radically different ones. And the man reaches for the stars in his casting. He makes a comedy, his camera is pointing at Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. Then he makes a serious caper flick, and he's framing DeNiro, Norton and Brando in the lens.


Frankly, the high-powered performers weren't really needed for what is basically a stylish episode of TV's Mission Impossible, but I guess they don't hurt the film any. DeNiro and Norton just do their jobs and blend into the genre atmosphere. Brando, as usual in the past decades, brings gratuitous eccentricity to his role, and your tolerance of that will probably be a matter of personal taste. 

Oz contributes plenty himself. This type of caper, which focuses on the minute details of the timing, is a bitch to narrate because it is no small task for the director to convey the unrelieved tension that the audience is supposed to feel during the actual heist, while at the same time making the "storyline" comprehensible without any dialogue. The director in this case needs to be like a boxer in the ring - never let up, never give the other guy a chance to breathe, don't make any mistakes. Oz does the heist well, and the remainder of the film is murky atmosphere:  smoky jazz clubs, overcast days at the harbor, ancient and labyrinthine city streets, dark conversations in dark corners, betrayals and secrets.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • Full-length director commentary

  • Making-of featurette

  • three collections of additional footage

Well directed and acted, the heist is a real nail-biter, and there are some twists that may fool all but the most hardened caper-film addicts. 

My only real gripe is that the film is lacking in fun, and laden with genre baggage (the dreaded "one last score", e.g.). Caper films usually include a sense that the criminals actually enjoy what they do, rather than just pulling their crimes off as if they were thorough, detail-minded lunchbox guys heading off for a day of work. The film could have used some humor and glamour to bring in a wider audience, although the lack of lightness was a deliberate stylistic choice. For addicts of caper films, it is top-of-the-line. For mass audiences, it may seem dark and technical, sort of like a murky version of Ocean's 11 without the cool.

But aside from that, way to go puppet-boy! I saw it with my seventeen year old son. He is a member of the mass-market audience, and he loves macho films. I generally like more thoughtful fare. This had something for each of us, and we both thought that this was one of the better pictures of the summer.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4, Apollo 78.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 71% positive reviews.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.1 , Apollo users 77/100
  • With their dollars ... it was a minor hit in the summer of 2001, with a $71 million domestic gross on 2200 screens, but that was no bonanza, because the film cost $68 million to make.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Top-of-the-line heist flick film, but unfortunately too darkly stylized to have massive crossover appeal.

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