The Score

The Score (2001)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton, Angela Bassett, Marlon Brando
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Additional Footage, Trailer

Every once in a while a movie comes along that has apparently been overlooked by audiences in theaters and when you get to watch it, you want to tell the world about it, because it really is very good. "The Score" is such a movie. A superb crime-caper with a stellar cast and a complex story that just won’t let up. It is now available on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Video in a release that, surprisingly, even features a number of extras.

Nick Wells (Robert DeNiro) is an expert safecracker. Living in Montreal, where he also owns and runs a Jazz club, he never works on his home turf and all his gigs take place in the US. One day, after a robbery that brought him within inches of getting caught, he decides to quit the business, to simply focus on his nightclub, and spend a quiet life with his girlfriend Diane (Angela Bassett). But Nick’s partner Max (Marlon Brando) has one more job for him. The most luring of them all. The job that could make Nick a rich man, and reluctantly Nick decides to do it one last time.

Max hooks him up with an aspiring thief, Jack Teller (Edward Norton), who has been working on the planned robbery for some time already. Together they make plans to steal a national treasure from the Montreal customs house where it is barely secured. But as soon as they begin forging their plans, nothing works out the way they want to and Nick begins to wonder if he made the right choice. It’s never too late to quit… or so he thinks.

Director Frank Oz has long proven that there is more to him than voicing Piggy and puppeteering the Muppets, but I have to admit that with "The Score" he has created an outstanding and truly memorable film that has quickly made it to my list of favorite capers, all the way up there with the classic "Topkapi." Although formulaic in its essence, "The Score" is a movie that is cleverly written and contains a good number of twists and turns in the story and very dimensional, deep characters. Gradually we explore their motivations and their true selves as the plot gets increasingly hairy for them. The story is beautifully built and set up, always keeping the viewer on the edge. From the first moments we are glued to the screen and the film never lets up. As the plot propels itself towards its climax, the movie is turning into one of the most suspenseful and smartest crime capers in a very long time.

Add to all that some of the finest actors and you begin to get the picture that this is also a very character-driven movie. Robert DeNiro is perfect in his part, showing jus the right amount of edginess and roughness for the job, while always maintaining a very human side that allows us to see behind the criminal. His emotions are as deep and real as anyone’s and DeNiro works his acting magic to bring this character to full-blown life. Opposite him we get to see Edward Norton, also in one of his finest performances. Cocky, and overtly arrogant, his portrayal of Jack is exactly how you would envision a young, aspiring modern-day criminal who believes he’s just become the navel of the world. He thinks he’s seen it all, thinks he knows it all, thinks he has the right answer to everything. But it is Norton’s transformation into Brian, the handicapped janitor he plays as a disguise, that will leave you speechless. Not only does his mannerism change totally, his whole intonation, the inflection, the way he moves, holds himself and speaks is absolutely breathtaking, and every time we get to witness him let down his disguise on the screen, we see a very different person come through.

"The Score" comes to DVD in a beautiful <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer in the movie’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The image is absolutely clean and there’s not a speckle to be found in the presentation. The transfer reveals a very high level of detail, creating a very sharp image. Occasionally the image shows the slightest signs of edge-enhancement but it never becomes distracting and the overall image quality is very good. Colors are beautifully rendered, breathing life into the carefully chosen settings. The colors of the nightclub, the streets of Montreal at night, the daylight shots, the inside of the gloomy customs house during the night shifts, everything is perfectly reproduced. Flesh tones are very faithful and the contrast of the disc is immaculate. The deep blacks firmly root the image and give it visual depth without ever losing detail and the highlights are well-balanced without ever bleeding. The compression is equally flawless, making this a beautiful presentation that is entirely free of compression artifacts.

The sound of the DVD is just as good. Featuring a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track that is complemented by A <$DS,Dolby Surround> track in English and French, the audio presentation is very active and engaging. Surrounds are used very well, painting a lively sonic image that fills the room with ambiance or deliberately spatial sound effects. Howard Shore’s atmospheric and highly suspenseful score is also nicely implemented, creating a wide sound field that is rich and warm at all times. Dialogues are perfectly integrated and are never drowned out by the music of the sound effects, keeping them understandable throughout the film.

The DVD contains a <$commentary,commentary track> by director Frank Oz and Director of Photography Rob Hahn. The track is refreshing in a number of aspects. Most notably however for its technical approach. Oz and Hahn do not shy away from dissection shots for the lighting set-ups, the camera and lens usage and other technical aspects that are hardly found in <$commentary,commentary track>s these days. This may not be a very entertaining <$commentary,commentary track> but it is full of valuable information about what makes various scenes and the entire film tick. Great stuff for serious film buffs who want to know about the nuts and bolts of shooting a movie!

Also part of the release is a featurette called "Making The Score" which takes you behind the scenes and offers interesting tidbits and interview clips. It’s mostly a promotional piece but nonetheless offers some interesting bits and pieces. Some additional footage is also on the disc, consisting of two alternate takes of scenes in the movie, as well as an improvisation clip by Robert DeNiro and Marlon Brando. The movie’s theatrical trailer can also be found on the disc.

"The Score" turns out to be surprisingly mature and dark in a way and I have to admit I love the ending. It is so entirely character-driven that it doesn’t even matter that we could have predicted it, had the film given us the time to think about it beforehand. It is so resoundingly true to the characters that you will find yourself cheering as the end credits roll. "The Score" is a sadly overlooked film and I can only hope that fans of the genre will discover it on this DVD. It is a superbly done movie and it comes on a great DVD. Do yourself a favor and check it out. You must not miss this thrill ride!