What strange, idiosyncratic impulses animate the British crime picture The Score, and how heartbreaking that almost none of them are good. At its core, there is brilliantly preposterous extension of the low-standing ruffians of British heists and capers: What if these characters, rather than barking at each other in colloquialisms and cockney rhyming slang, reached for poetry, and sang wordy, downcast pop songs?
The filmmaker with this genuinely enticing brainstorm is writer/director Malachi Smyth, and the songwriter is Johnny Flynn, who also appears in the film, bravely giving its most affected, ostentatious performance despite playing a nominally less eccentric character than his co-stars. Troy (Will Poulter) and Mike (Flynn) are friends and makeshift partners, waiting at a remote café for some kind of shady money/goods exchange. We don’t know much about the terms of the deal, but we do learn that Troy has subbed in for Mike’s brother, and that he’s impulsive—left to his own devices, he gets into an unexplainable melee at a gas station.
Yet Troy is not quite the live-wire semi-psycho fated to get his friend into violent trouble. He’s a sensitive soul—if anything, he should be worried about Mike getting him into a scrape, rather than the other way around—and proves it by warbling wordy, unsteady songs to Gloria (Naomi Ackie), the woman behind the counter at the café. (She does not, Gloria makes clear, offer table service.) Gloria and Troy fall in love through song, just like in a classic musical, though they don’t also communicate with the language of dance. This is more of a singing-on-the-way-to-things, singing-while-looking type of musical.
It’s also not quite a jukebox musical. Instead, it feels like it’s been derived from some bloke’s old iPod, if the bloke in question was going through an inexplicable Johnny Flynn stage despite The National being right there. Indeed, it’s not great luck for The Score that it so quickly follows on the heels of Cyrano, another musical featuring mid-tempo-to-downbeat songs performed in the style of The National, with the crucial advantage of actually being written by people who are in The National. Flynn previously attempted to fictionalize his work into cinema with the intimate drama Song One, and it’s getting difficult to figure out why this guy, of all people, has besotted multiple writer-directors into building a movie around his music and his screen presence. Maybe he’s an enthusiastic collaborator; here, he’s so dedicated to verisimilitude that he manages to make his voice sound kind of terrible while singing his own songs.
As Gloria and Troy performatively discuss and fret over all of their respective baggage, the movie settles into a waiting-game rut. Poulter and Ackie sing their hearts out, and Smyth occasionally plays around with split-screen effects, attempting to create movie magic out of limited locations. It all remains decidedly stagebound, and not just because of its claustrophobic setting. The vagueness of both the plot details and the ennui has a theatrical affect; Smyth’s dialogue is full of cutesy, quasi-erudite banter: Lots of debates about the meanings of words (including the film’s title, alas), that sort of thing.
It’s a sign of The Score’s tedium that it could ever be reduced to “that sort of thing.” This is a crime picture where characters repeatedly break into song! That “sort of thing” demonstrably does not exist! But by the end of this movie, its inventive genre cross-breeding feels as worn-out as any other.
Director: Malachi Smyth
Writer: Malachi Smyth
Starring: Will Poulter, Naomi Ackie, Johnny Flynn, Lydia Wilson
Release Date: June 3, 2022
Jesse Hassenger writes about movies and other pop-culture stuff for a bunch of outlets including The A.V. Club, Polygon, The Week, NME, and SportsAlcohol.com, where he also has a podcast. Following @rockmarooned on Twitter is a great way to find out about what he’s watching, listening to, or eating.