Heist movies are great. As familiar and comfortable as an old armchair, you can watch them secure in the knowledge that some old thief is going to do "one last job", that they'll spend ages casing the joint and that the final 40 minutes will be a wordless unfolding of some spectacularly elaborate plan. In all these respects, director Frank Oz delivers, taking a welcome break from fluffy comedies to paint a midnight world of sewers, break-ins and jazz clubs. The Score's the sort of by-the-numbers crime caper that's been out of fashion ever since Reservoir Dogs shook things up by not even showing the heist, and it proves that there's plenty of life yet in the old formula.
Within this framework of established themes and familiar set-pieces, The Score does present us with several genuine scoops. Firstly it's set in Canada, a country better known for being a cheap stand-in for America. But this time, the old town of Montreal, Nick's cozy backstreet life of fruit shops and boulangeries and the imposing might of the Montreal Customs House (target of the heist) are photographed wonderfully, leaving you to ponder whether it's just laziness on the part of film-makers to set most movies on the over-exposed streets of LA and New York.
Then of course there's the coup of getting three generations of acting A-listers together. Both Brando and De Niro have, in their time, been labelled as the "greatest living actor", and although Norton's not quite there yet, a resumé that includes American History X and Fight Club is getting him there fast. None of them seem to be acting their socks off because none of them seem to be acting at all - they're playing characters so familiar to you and them that you can just accept them totally. Plus Norton has the double whammy of being able to play two characters - the lippy young crook and "Brian", the sweet-natured cleaner with cerebral palsy that's his undercover persona whenever he's inside the Customs House.
There are other people in this movie of course, but they merely give The Score's central trio something to act against. The jazzy score doesn't encourage effects-heavy Hollywood explosivity, and the pace allows a slow-fuse fizz towards choice moments of nerve-jangling action rather than the wearying endless frenzy of the summer blockbusters. And while the curiosity value of seeing Brando, De Niro and Norton together might draw you in, Frank Oz's unexpected move into crime pics and a genuinely enjoyable story are the real reasons to check this out.
A solid genre picture that uses a much-visited story to anchor a film that's centred on performance and characterisation. Several memorable set-pieces pick up the pace whenever it threatens to sag and the final break-in's a real treat for all crime caper fans.