Will Poulter and Johnny Flynn play small time crooks in Malachi Smyth’s crime-musical, which is almost entirely set in a small, remote cafe, tended by Naomie Ackie’s Gloria.
The Score is certainly a unique film. Its plot and the visual look are very traditionally British, just like your usual crime drama. It’s not visually the most exciting, but there’s almost something comforting in the familiarity of the film. So when Troy, played by Will Poulter, bursts into song within the first 15 minutes, it’s a little jarring, in the best way possible.
Once you get over the shock that The Score is indeed a fully fledged musical, you can ease into its world. Smyth fluidly mixes genres; most musicals rely on utopia, creating a fantasy in which the musical numbers take place, but The Score is grim and realistic. Imagine Mona Lisa meets A Star Is Born.
The story is simple: Troy and Mike (Johnny Flynn) arrive at a quaint, quiet cafe in the middle of nowhere. They are meeting an acquaintance there but they have no idea when they might get there, so they wait. Troy is immediately infatuated with the attractive waitress Gloria, who is dreaming of a better life.
Almost all of the action takes place in and in the immediate vicinity of the cafe. Smyth, who also wrote the script, drip-feeds us information about the situation, the reasons Mike and Troy are there and their dynamic. You slowly begin to piece together a richer picture of the characters and their individual motivations and goals.
Flynn and Poulter have great chemistry together. Flynn is the gruff, older brother type with a shady background while Poulter plays Troy with an earnest naivety. Troy and Gloria’s attraction is clearly puppy love, but it’s so sweet and innocent, it warms your heart in minutes.
The film’s biggest issue is the songs. The soundtrack is almost entirely made by Flynn, an accomplished musician himself. The opening song, ‘Barleycorn’, is a banger, but the rest are too indie and almost folk-like to be memorable. While The Score is definitely a musica, it resists the usual musical trappings and thus, is both an accomplished piece of genre-mixing but also deeply disappointing as a musical.
All three have impressive vocals, Poulter being perhaps the biggest surprise. Much like Ryan Gosling in La La Land, Poulter fills his lacking singing talent with boyish charm, so even if he doesn’t quite hit the notes and he can’t convincingly sing, he somehow comes across the best in the songs.
Naomie Ackie will be playing Whitney Houston in an upcoming biopic and The Score is an impressive preview of her talents, both as an actress and as a singer. Ackie’s character Gloria feels like the fullest of the central trio; she has a personality and inner life that extends the film’s plot. Out of all of them, she feels like she existed before the opening credits and will continue to exist after the end credits, so lifelike is Ackie’s characterisation of her character.
Smyth’s direction is confident, but some of the artistic choices are baffling. While the use of split screens towards the end of the film is inspiring and effective, creating a sense of urgency to the finale. But too often The Score seems to be repeating the same scene again and again. The two men will be sat at a table, Troy and Gloria flirt, Mike will say something mean to break it up. Rinse and repeat. It creates a frustrating experience that never reaches its full potential.
The Score is in UK cinemas September 9