If Marlon Brando had a theme in mind for his role in The Score (2001), the look and persona he adopts would be called ‘Back from Bermuda’. To begin with the persona seems to be based on Orson Welles, but then when the bulk begins to speak, we realise that ‘Back from Bermuda’ has a camp side to it. Finally there is a marvellous hair addition to ‘Back from Bermuda’, which is a master class in surreal make-up, and appears to be heavily worked upon, unlike Brando’s face which seems haphazardly clarted with foundation.
I think in fact that all of this is supposed to make us think of Tennessee Williams or Truman Capote, but whatever it is, it’s a joke. The Score, directed by Frank Oz is a fairly run of the mill film and it isn’t helped by the portentous mass himself hogging screen time that could be better spent developing plot or character.
In terms of performance, like the other late cameos, Brando in The Score is unimpressive and slightly ridiculous. There is a feeling somewhere that somehow Brando’s presence adds gravity to the proceedings but it doesn’t, and as often happens the material also conspires to make everything flop like fast deflating soufflé. Consider the dialogue in what should have been one of the greatest scenes in recent cinema: Brando and DeNiro share the screen and yet they simply mutter pleasantries to each other, because they and everyone else are too busy contemplating the genius of having the two incarnations of Vito Corleone in the same cinematic cell.
Like this dialogue, the whole of The Score is low key. Although there’s nothing in The Score that hasn’t been seen elsewhere, each scene manages to have something interesting in it, meaning that viewers likely make it to the end without too much complaint. It’s of the ‘One Last Job Before I Retire’ school of crime-cinema, though not in the class of Rififi, or even Topkapi, so it’s quite sedate, never too unrealistic, and never threatening to do anything other than keep you in a low level state of semi-amusement.
Appearing in cameo, Brando doesn’t add a hell of a lot to the proceedings, other than a certain bankability which in a commercial film industry can’t really be sniffed at. But as an attempt to generate a character we’ve not seen before, Brando in the score is very difficult to take, with his sibilant voice and weird hairpiece, it makes very little sense at all.
Of course, Brando is reported to have argued with Frank Oz repeatedly throughout the production, calling him Miss Piggy, and whether it is true or not, it still tells of a professionalism that was lost sometime in the mid-1950s, never to be regained. This matters not one whit however, because The Score grossed OK at the box-office, proving at least the powerful pulling power of the Brando brand, and especially the promise of its being mixed with some deNiro; but nobody can seriously say that The Score has any class at all, and the only person who won any plaudits at all for involvement was Angela Bassett. Edward Norton, you feel, isn’t that convinced about his dialogue at times, and as for deNiro and Brando? Watching them, even with little experience of cinema, you would be bound to agree that it was bad idea letting their terrible egos demand that they improvise, instead of doing a script. At least Angela Bassett had the dignity to perform, even though she was probably only paid a fraction of what the boys earned.