Movies are made for heist stories. Great robberies can be fun to watch on stage or read about in a book, but movies provide an immediacy and economy of narrative that no other form of story-telling can touch. Give us something worth a lot of money, whether it is money, jewels, or a secret formula, put it somplace hard to break into, whether it is a museum, a bank, or an enemy compound, and an anti-hero to root for, and we’re ready to enjoy.
The pattern may be familia, but it is reliable. Set out the task and explain the obstacles, come up with clever ways to get around the obstacles, then show us the heist itself, throwing in a few unexpected challenges and some even more clever on-the-spot problem-solving, add in some colorful characters with a few twists and turns in their relationships, and we will settle back and enjoy.
“The Score” benefits from this formula almost as much as it benefits from its Mount Rushmore of acting power. The story might not have much that’s new, but it is still fun to see a thief look at an intimidating new safe utterly undaunted, explaining that “If somebody can build it, somebody can unbuild it.” The movie’s real luster comes from stars Marlon Bando, Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton, and Angela Bassett, who are thrilling to watch under any circumstances. You can’t help wishing, though, to see them under other circumstances. I’ll be the rehearsals for some of these scenes were more fun to watch than the scenes themselves.
DeNiro plays Nick, a careful thief who plans meticulously, keeps his cool when the unexpected occurs, and lives by two rules: work alone and never rob in the city you live in. He is willing to think about breaking those rules when Max, his long-time fence Brando) offers him a job so big that he can retire and live happily ever after with the woman he adores (Bassett) and the jazz club he owns.
The job will require working with Jack (Norton), who came up with idea (stealing a priceless gold scepter studded with jewels) and who has done all of the prep work (posing as a retarded man to get a janitor’s job in the building, getting access to all of the technical specifications for the security system), but who does not know how to crack the safe. If they are going to do this job, Nick and Jack will have to work together.
There are not many surprises here. Of course Nick and Jack will have some trouble learning to work together. They will have to rely on a mother-ridden computer nerd to get the key access codes. Nick and his girlfriend will have a disagreement about this “one last job.” And there will be both honor and dishonor among the thieves. This would be a B movie without the world-class talent on screen, but even they can’t lift it to more than a B-plus. It is fun to watch them spark each other, though, and for my money, Norton (who does have the showiest role) takes the prize.
Parents should know that the movie is rated R for language, brief drug use, sexual references, and a brief, non-expliit sexual situation. The heroes of the movie are all theives, and there is no suggestion that there is anything wrong or even any harm in stealing an historic treasure.
Families who see this movie should talk about the conversation Nick and Jack have about taking risks, and how their views differ. They may also want to talk about how Nick was firm about his rules until enough money was offered to change his mind.
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy some heist movie classics, like “Topkapi,” “The Great Train Robbery,” and “The Lavender Hill Mob.”