April 30th, 2004
Script Review: THE SCORE
by Darwin Mayflower
Think of the poster:
Marlon Brando. Robert De Niro. Edward Norton.
In a Frank Oz film.
Marlon Brando making his first film in three years (and losing fifty pounds to do it). The old (De Niro) and young (Norton) character actors finally appearing together onscreen. Frank Oz, (known for comedies like "In & Out" and "What About Bob?") making his first drama.
Any film fan by now is drooling. Which is what makes "The Score" so bewildering. Because it is boring and devoid of an original idea. It's a heist movie so wrongheaded it doesn't even know its own genre.
The draft I read was dated 12/2/99. The first draft was written by Daniel E. Taylor and later rewritten by Ebbe Roe Smith and Kario Salem. Mr. Smith is best known for his first-time-out-of-the-gate, multimillion-dollar sale of "Falling Down," which was eventually made by Joel Schumacher and starred Michael Douglas in buzz-cut, I'm-not-gonna-take-it-anymore mode.
Mr. Salem is a former actor who wrote "The Rat Pack" and "Don King: Only In America." He's one of the hottest writers around -- though I don't know why. He's supposed to be working on a Martin Luther King biopic for Oliver Stone.
Despite the script's mediocrity it has pulled together an intriguing cast. Everyone knows the family tree of Thespians. Brando sits at the head of the table when it comes to modern acting. He brought new life and a much-needed realism to acting. And as it goes: Brando begot De Niro; De Niro begot Ed Norton.
Angela Bassett is also in the film. Her presence should shake things up nicely. But I doubt there's going to be a role that can sustain her. She's listed in one place as "the actress." Well...there's no actress in this draft. I thought she'd be playing Joe, a writer caught between Norton's character and De Niro's.
Here's the story: De Niro plays Nick Wells, a "master" thief who resides in Canada and owns a restaurant there. Wells' fence, Maximillian Beard (Brando), wants Wells to pull one last heist before he retires: stealing 14th Century Tarot cards from the National Library of Antiquities. Nick refuses. Enter Jackie Teller (Norton), an impudent young thief who idolizes Wells and has scammed his way into Beard's life. Teller (much too easily) gets the dirt on Wells and blackmails him into making this one last run with him.
Instantly the script is annoying. De Niro's character is described as "the kind of man who makes smart women of a certain age sigh wistfully and move on. The younger and less circumspect fall instantly." This is something a college kid puts in his script. Not two seasoned writers.
Then three pages into the script and we get a character who talks like this: "Deh shrimp-a and-a deh lobster which you are-a stuffing, have-a flying in from deh most-a bella blah-blah-blahs in-a deh world-a, so you must eat-a dem like-a deh animals you ARE-A!" I never in my life seen dialogue like that outside of a comedy. They write this character like he exists on a pizza box.
"The Score" is almost incomprehensible in its emptiness. The script is more or less a giant buildup to the big heist finale. There's nothing but dead air before we get there. Wells broods. Cops watch him. Teller insults everyone. And we get dialogue like: "I believe if you're a two-by-four, sooner or later you're gonna run into a buzz saw. If you're a tomato, you're gonna get sliced."
In Ron Bass' script "Entrapment" (which was cannibalized for the movie) Ron sets up a heist/love story and gives us three incredibly exciting action scenes before the big denouement which blows our minds. In the remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair" Kurt Wimmer writes a brilliant opening rip-off so we have something to occupy us till we're back for something even more thrilling later on. And in Michael Mann's "Heat," a crime film that strives toward art, Mann intersperses the drama with enough bang-bang explosions that you're never bored. They are all smart enough to know that, basically, what they are making is an action film.
Two questions come to mind when reading this script: How did Daniel E. Taylor sell it? And what was it about the script that got De Niro, Brando, Ed Norton and Frank Oz interested? I couldn't picture anyone in their roles (except maybe Norton). Robert De Niro may be one of our finest actors, but a sexy, urbane man he is not. And while Brando should have no problem playing the flitty, effeminate Beard -- isn't it a waste to get Brando out of retirement for this?
There's plenty here that can be worked into something viewable. For instance, the writer, Joe, who is sleeping with Norton's character to understand his character for a book is nothing new...but that doesn't mean she can't be interesting. Unfortunately, she's simply in the story for no other reason than that the writers couldn't figure out a better way to get the cops involved.
Norton's Teller could actually be a gratifying role. It starts out good. He's a bad-ass who likes getting his way and his ultra-smooth way of twisting Beard and Wells is fun. Also, Teller puts on a "retard act" to get a job at the Library. This would be an intriguing thing to show -- but the writers are obsessed with Wells.
In a weird way all three actors are playing spins on characters they already embodied. De Niro is once again the quiet, masterful thief of "Heat." Norton is again playing a man who pretends he's mentally challenged (as in "Primal Fear"). And Brando, crazily enough, is like the ice-bucket-wearing loony-tune from "The Island of Dr. Moreau."
I think it's safe to say Kario Salem wrote most of this script. Major changes have been made from the earlier drafts: the location from San Francisco to Canada; characters switch places in scams. The style in consistent throughout. Which means the last writer, here Mr. Salem, started from the first page.
Lem Dobbs has rewritten the script. And hopefully still is. Lem wrote the single best unproduced script in history: "Edward Ford." I'm sure this job was based on "The Limey," which I didn't like, but having a writer as talented as Mr. Dobbs can only help a production.
"The Score" doesn't know what it is. It wants to be a noisy action movie, but it doesn't have the weight. It wants to be a "deep" examination of a crook as in "Thief." Or even a romp like the original "The Thomas Crown Affair." But it's just too simpleminded for the former and not adroit or aware enough for the latter.
It does prove one (sad) thing (as did "Ronin"): all movies will eventually be action films. It seems that no big-budget, major-studio film is released without some kind of action. Robert De Niro doing action films shows the downfall of films. There are no longer real answers in screenwriters' minds; it's all about how to crash a car or blow something up.
And while I love action movies (when they're done right) ask yourself this: What would you rather see "The Rock" or "Raising Arizona"?