The Score’s writer-director Malachi Smyth has sketched an idea of what the British Wild West could look like, and it has a stylish twist: singing gangsters. When the central musical segments work, they’re captivating, making The Score’s tone feel daringly out-of-the-box. But the meat of this movie fails to score.
Credit to Smyth for pulling off some gently ethereal and truly unusual scenes. Like singing often does, it softens these villains, especially lead lout Mike, played by Johnny Flynn, the actor who portrayed David Bowie in Stardust. He also wrote all the music the cowboys mime over in The Score.
One central idea is to explore masculinity through the prism of the cowboy trope: toxic masc pin-up Flynn plays opposite Will Poulter’s Troy, Mike’s much younger accomplice who’s aware of his mental health challenges and looking for a way out from this life of violence and betrayal. On the contrary, Mike refuses to let his guard down and gives off the pretence of fear when he’s around Troy, even though we get glimpses of his hidden emotions.
Even though he wrote the music, Flynn comes off clunky and less believable. It’s obviously a reach trying to make a gangster sing an emotional ditty, and Flynn doesn’t quite have the gumption to pull it off. Poulter, opposite love interest Gloria, played by Naomi Ackie, is magnetic. He’s good at the singing and pulling off the giddy mix of vulnerable sensitive youth and shockingly intentional thug.
Much of this is an homage to Shakespeare. Not just in the songs, but the sense of jeopardy and tragedy written into the Troy character. One song, Fare Thee Well (Shakesperian, oui?) is particularly stirring, as is the finale, with lingering camera work structured around engagingly lovelorn gazes from Ackie and Poulter. It offers a view of the type of emotion Smyth can achieve.
There’s also a particularly cute imaginary scene where the couple pretend to be sailing at sea in a derelict boat out the front of the restaurant the film is set at, and a gripping final shootout, too, which manages to shoehorn in good comedy,
But the overweight midriff of the film falls victim to a tired-feeling script and a serious lack of anything going on. There are endless montages of Mike and Troy sitting opposite one another in a cafe that are supposed to dial up suspense, but none of it conjures anything like the kind of intensity they need.
The duo are waiting for an unknown individual to pull up at the diner so they can complete some illegal deal or other, but for us, the wait is more tiresome than tense.