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A Winning 'Score'
By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 13, 2001


    'The Score' An awesome threesome: De Niro, Norton and Brando in "The Score."
(Phillip V. Caruso/Paramount Pictures)
"The Score" is the best heist flick since "The Usual Suspects," a perfect 10 of a movie that makes beautiful music out of the basics, from the nuts-and-bolts suspense of robbing that tightly guarded prize to the tight-lipped mysteries among the men who don the black ski masks to steal it.

And what entertaining mortals these crackers be: Robert De Niro as the burglarizing equivalent of the aging gunfighter – determined to make this one his last; Edward Norton as the smart, lippy upstart who joins him; and Marlon Brando as their eccentric go-between, who fusses around in the background like a bullish Truman Capote.

Unfortunately, this is a genre that's usually for men only. So "The Score" offers Angela Bassett only just enough time to flash what smoldering talent she could have shown us if only those boys hadn't taken up the whole movie robbing stuff.

But in a way, she's the real prize of the movie. See, if Nick Wells (De Niro) does pull off this one last robbery, he intends to settle down with lady friend Diane (Bassett) for a life of bliss. But first, there's the matter of the object to be stolen – a valuable, ancient French scepter in the basement of Montreal's Customs House.

Nick runs a jazz joint in Montreal, but it's merely his base for international burglary. He has sworn never to steal in his own back yard – too dangerous.

But he's getting long in the tooth. He's been talking about quitting for 25 years. And this haul, worth at least $4 million for him, would put him into the permanent black. His friend Max (Brando), a manipulative art dealer, keeps badgering him about it, telling Nick how easy a job it is. And there's a big plus: Jack Teller (Norton), a man on the inside who knows everything about the security, the floor plans, etc. Too bad he's an obnoxious hot dog who won't take Nick's initial no for an answer.

Long story short: Nick says yes.

And off we go. But even though there's nothing that unusual about the content of the movie, there's something about the atmosphere, the overall effect, that really works, whether it's the nail-biting suspense of the robbery attempt, the smart plot twists or such characters as Steven (Jamie Harrold), Nick's nutty Internet-nerdy contact who breaks security codes for him and lives uncomfortably with his busybody mother.

"She's a ghoul," he complains to Nick.

Most-valuable-player awards are clearly due director Frank Oz and scriptwriters Kario Salem, Lem Dobbs (who wrote the fabulous "The Limey") and Scott Marshall Smith. Oz's direction is smooth and assured, and he can add this movie to his better works, including "Bowfinger," "What About Bob?" and "In & Out." The writers have constructed an absorbing tall tale that doesn't try to be anything more or less than just right.

THE SCORE (R, 124 minutes)Contains strong language. Area theaters.


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