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‘The Score’ Review: Songs in the Key of Heist

‘The Score’ Review: Songs in the Key of Heist

The title of this small-scale existentialist musical from the writer-director Malachi Smyth refers to the bag of cash two shabby crooks have driven to a sleepy stretch of England. It is also a nod to the fact that the day’s misadventures will be partly told in song.

Mike (Johnny Flynn), the leader of this criminal duo, and Troy (Will Poulter), the slap-happy muscle, are irritated to be stuck in a middle-of-nowhere cafe waiting for a dodgy exchange that could get violent. The squabbling pair aren’t in harmony about anything, though they do share a tendency to express themselves in baleful, restless tunes with hyper-literate lyrics. “I’m an idea of magnitude giving birth to itself ad infinitum,” Poulter warbles to the diner’s prickly waitress, Gloria (Naomi Ackie). She may or may not hear him, even as she adds her own layer of song to vent her frustration at being stuck serving coffee to a string of oddball customers, wishing she was anywhere else.

Troy and Gloria must sing about their instant attraction, otherwise their fledgling love story would barely register. But glossy ballads, these aren’t. The songs are penned by Flynn who, when not acting, has released several albums of craggy, cerebral folk. (His latest, “Lost in the Cedar Wood,” a collaboration with the British writer Robert Macfarlane, took inspiration from “The Epic of Gilgamesh.”) The movie’s music has a pleasantly crumpled feel. It is lip-synced casually, as though the characters are bashful about belting their innermost thoughts. The songs can seem to operate on their own plane: When Flynn croons through a window, it’s almost surprising to see his breath mist the glass.

The film is besotted by its own cleverness. The overwrought dialogue clashes with the rest of the movie’s naturalism. But Smyth’s very point is that ordinary folk have the right to strive for poetry — and his shaggy sincerity wins out in the end. With this promising ditty as his debut feature, the filmmaker introduces himself as a voice to be heard.

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The Score
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. In theaters.

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