The Score(15), <Br></Br>George Washington (12),<Br></Br> Mike Bassett: England Manager(15),<Br></Br> The Brothers (15)

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Take three actors, two the best of their generation, one the great contender of his, put them together in a slick heist drama, and wait for the sparks to fly. A couple of hours later, you're still waiting. The Score isn't a terrible movie, but given the talent on show, it is a terrible disappointment, failing to live up to expectations or hype. From the top: it stars Marlon Brando as a large, louche businessman who fences high-end goods, Robert De Niro as a laconic jazz-club owner who moonlights as a jewel thief, and Edward Norton as a hot young con artist. Brando teams the other two for a "score" that will make their fortune, namely, robbing a royal sceptre (value: $30m) from a vault in the Montreal customs house. It's risky, of course, but they have two things in their favour – De Niro is a world-class cracksman, and Norton is already on the inside, masquerading as a mentally retarded assistant janitor.

De Niro and Brando together on screen for the first time is a collector's item in itself, and, given leeway to improvise by director Frank Oz, both actors give relaxed, if hardly ground-breaking performances. (De Niro seems to have played this part several times before.) Norton, his show-off interludes aside, holds his own amid the august company, and it will probably make a great chapter for his memoirs. What's dismaying is the leadenly mechanical plot (it's scripted by Lem Dobbs, Kario Salem and Scott Marshall Smith) which the trio have been asked to bring to life.

The initial antagonism between master thief and apprentice, the whiff of blackmail, the favour to a friend, the last-minute hitch – all the old standards are here, and it's only the long, intricate set-piece of the heist itself that gives the picture any sort of boost. There are some other, minor pleasures to be had – the sight of Angela Bassett's cheekbones (but her role as De Niro's girlfriend is pitiful) and the sound of Diana Krall's voice over the closing credits are very welcome – but for all it promises The Score drastically underperforms.

I'm not sure that David Gordon Green's debut feature George Washington is quite the masterpiece that some American critics have claimed, but there is certainly a terrific assurance and beauty in its look. Set in a dirt-poor backwater of North Carolina, it languidly considers the lives of a group of kids as they come to terms with the accidental death of a friend. George (winningly played by Donald Holden) feels particularly guilty, and in an act of reparation saves another boy from drowning, despite the mortal risk to himself. He then takes to the streets in the makeshift garb of a superhero and confesses his plan to become US President.

Green and his cinematographer Tim Orr offer a shimmering, sunbaked vision of tatty railway sidings and derelict houses that is strongly reminiscent of Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven, an impression reinforced by the "poetic" voice-over of Nasia (Candace Evanofski), George's girlfriend; everything seems to happen at three-quarters speed, and the hallucinatory quality of the film's movement draws you into a trance. The 25-year old Green, apparently blessed with a limitless ability to make haunting pictures, has no great sense of narrative urgency. While one can accept that the rambling, unhurried pace is true to the rhythms of North Carolina life, it doesn't necessarily make for gripping cinema.

The mock documentary Mike Bassett: England Manager, neither especially funny nor inventive, cuts disconcertingly close to the historical bone. It's a story of a football manager promoted beyond his means. Bassett (Ricky Tomlinson), having enjoyed club success at Norwich, finds himself suddenly thrust into the spotlight when the FA appoints him England manager. By an egregious fluke, the national side reaches the World Cup finals in Brazil, and a documentary crew (inexplicably fronted by interviewer Martin Bashir) follows Bassett as he flails through tactical uncertainty, poor results and loutish after-hours drunkenness. And this is a parody?

Those who care to recall English managers of recent years may find Steve Barron's film almost too accurate for its own good. You can chuckle at the intertitles recording the none-too-wise words of Howard Wilkinson and Kevin Keegan, and the digs at the Football Association (Bassett finds an unread note beneath the chairman's doormat from Ron Greenwood, circa 1978), but the relationship between Bassett and his clueless assistant manager, intended to mock Graham Taylor and yes-man Phil Neal in the classic "Do I Not Like That" documentary, can't rival the real-life inanity. Tomlinson is reliably good as the put-upon Bassett, reviled by press and fans alike, though the script's belated swerve into a fantasy of incompetence triumphant, triggered by an on-air recitation of Kipling's If, deserves booing off the pitch.

The romantic comedy The Brothers is a guys' version of sisterhood slushfest Waiting to Exhale, and every bit as wearisome. Four black middle-class Americans deal with everyday problems of work, family and (groan) relationships, and writer-director Gary Hardwick considers no joke too coarse and no sentiment too lame that it can't be pressed into service. The film purports to offer a portrait of the war between the sexes – issues of commitment, marriage and blow jobs are all raised – but not a word of it rings true, or funny. The level of insight can be gauged from a wise old momma's foolproof way of telling whether a man's in love: while you're finishing supper on the sofa, he'll give you the last bit of chicken on his plate. Don't you love learning stuff from the movies?

AQ

Comments