Review: The Score
by David Katz
- British writer-director Malachi Smyth brings a potential cinematic first to Tallinn Black Nights – a “singing” heist film
The Score [+see also:
interview: Malachi Smyth
film profile] – did you notice the pun? – is (sadly?) not Ocean’s Eleven with libretto and act overtures. This tonally uncanny film doesn’t have enormous precedent in prior cinema, where the artificiality of musicals and crime-underworld grit tend to occupy opposite sides of the aisle, but here, debuting director Malachi Smyth pulls off a belated, and technically accomplished, union of both. The cast is great and oddly recognisable, too, with Midsommar’s scowler Will Poulter and Whitney Houston-to-be Naomi Ackie bringing good game and pipes, giving The Score the relaxed air of a handmade passion project, achieved in downtime (and the pandemic’s first wave, to boot) between more impersonal studio assignments. The film has premiered in the First Feature Competition at Tallinn Black Nights.
Save for the duetting gangsters in the 1950s Hollywood musical Kiss Me Kate, and the Oscar winner Chicago, most filmmakers seem to have intuited an ill-fitting link between gangland slayings and show tunes, and thus steered clear. Smyth has instead made it the organising principle of his long-in-the-works debut feature (after many industry-acclaimed shorts and scripts), and there’s no question he carries it off, the slightly uncertain mix that it is. The entire soundtrack is provided by singer-songwriter, and the film’s own co-star, Johnny Flynn (Mia Hansen-Løve also used one track featured here at the close of her Goodbye First Love [+see also:
interview: Mia Hansen-Love
film profile]), but his mild-mannered folk-pop is an incongruous decoration to the movie’s stagy, mainly one-location plotting, which itself aims for the tart sarcasm of Martin McDonagh, or Tarantino in Hateful Eight mode.
Poulter is Troy, the good-natured but dim younger sibling of Mike’s (Flynn) crime boss Derek, who’s currently incarcerated. Derek has hidden a sum of £20,000 for the two men to use for further illegal deals – the script, quite chastely, doesn’t explain exactly what for – and so this odd couple set off to a strangely isolated roadside coffee shop to wait for their contact to show up with the handover. Meanwhile, the pink-braided Gloria (Ackie) is manning the till and finds herself in danger as an overlapping scheme rears its head, as well as generating some chemistry with Troy, who despite the poor GCSE results he proudly brags about, shows some quick thinking as the third-act peril heats up.
The musical form creates a kind of emotional realism and transparency: the actors – either solo or in an ensemble number – have a unique platform to convey all that is roiling within them, bursting out into sorrowful or joyous song. This feeling is what gives The Score integrity; however, it’s hard to envisage what audience it could potentially appeal to. Smyth puts it all on the line and, in not fearing looking ridiculous or gauche, comes out with something impactful. But it also helps to ponder why, say, the characters in Reservoir Dogs or Fargo don’t often disarm their handguns and begin warbling an earnest ballad. It’s an independent film by exact definition, deriving from a creator’s vision that the wider domestic industry might be unable to accommodate, instead of anything approaching “hipness”, which The Score maybe unintentionally contains nothing of.
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