The Score: Actors who act as actors acting
Norton is a thief who uses a bogus handicap as cover to get a janitor's job at Montreal's Customs House so he can case the joint for a heist. (Wikipedia delicately calls Norton's character "intellectually challenged," ludicrous for its euphemism, and misleading, because the chief characteristics of Norton's guise are physical: distorted speech, a lurching walk, and a withered, clawlike way of holding his right arm. He's an actor playing an actor. His role is self-conscious exhibitionism to the core, and he does a decent job of it. But then, he was playing opposite Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando, so maybe he felt like he had to do something to keep up.)
There's nothing terribly wrong with this workmanlike heist movie, but:
- The salient aspect of its first half for me was its interior scenes. I'm from Montreal, and I got to see the gorgeous modern interiors of the gorgeous stone buildings of Old Montreal.
- The heist, of a precious golden scepter, involves computer hacking, electronics, underground mapping, physics, and De Niro's character hanging like a spider from a ceiling. I've always thought simplicity was best. What proportion of real-life big heists involve such elaborate gimcrackery?
- The movie transfers to screen one of the hoariest cheats in crime fiction, that of withholding information from the reader/viewer to build suspense when such withholding is out of character with what has gone before. One scene has Norton's character reading aloud plans for the heist as De Niro shows them to him. I find it unlikely that a person would do this in real life, but it's an acceptable solution to the problem of how to convey large chunks of information. Later, though, when De Niro shows Norton the coup de grace that will let them overcome increased security at the Customs House, Norton just says something like, "Are you sure this will work?", leaving the audience guessing. It's a cheap tease.
- A later trick is much less obvious and hence, more effective. It also makes narrative sense. I won't spoil things for you, but it has to do with Norton's character's deliberate temporary inaction after it becomes obvious he will double-cross De Niro during the heist, and it's a lovely touch.
- De Niro's character owns a jazz club. This is a perfunctory excuse to get a nice song or two on the soundtrack. He could just as easily be a mechanic, an office worker, a lawyer, or anything else. His profession is at best irrelevant and at worst a distraction.
- Again according to Wikipedia, Roger Ebert called The Score "the best pure heist movie in recent years." Peter Travers, on the other hand, wrote that when "two Don Corleones team up," he expected "the kind of movie that makes people say, 'I'd pay to see these guys just read from the phone book.'" Travers concluded, however: "There's nothing you can't see coming in this flick, including the surprise ending. Quick, somebody get a phone book." Travers was right