Directed by Frank Oz, starring Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Marlon Brando and Angela Bassett.

Edward Norton seemed to sum up the thoughts of most movie fans when he said the he would have agreed to star alongside Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando in 'The Score' just to see his name on the poster. But while the pitch of seeing the trio bouncing lines off seemed almost too good to be true, it was also tempered by the reality that big screen showdowns (De Niro and Pacino in 'Heat', Spacey and Jackson in 'The Negotiator' to name two recent examples) are often more impressive on paper than film. Thankfully 'The Score' delivers in style.

De Niro plays Nick, a shrewd, ageing con who divides his time between his Montreal jazz club and safe cracking gigs south of the border. Nick's about to leave the blags behind for the straight life, but his fence Max (Brando) ropes him in for one last job. With a six-million-dollar payoff, Max wants Nick to take on rising thief Jackie (Norton) as a partner for the heist and, reluctantly, Nick agrees. But the loner's concerns about having a vain youngster watching his back pales in significance when he discovers the target – the Montreal Customs House.

Oz's first foray into serious drama (he previously directed comedies like 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' and 'Bowfinger'), 'The Score' runs along familiar plot lines but it matters little when you accept that the biggest thrill is seeing the finest of three generations sharing scenes together. With Montreal an elegant and almost European backdrop, Oz summons up much of the film's tension through depicting the daily plod of putting a heist together, the surveillance shifts and hours of study mixing with the clash of egos and the sacrifice of trust for profit.

De Niro's character is essentially a rehash of his performances for 'Heat' and 'Ronin', the taciturn loner who yearns for something and someone (in this case Bassett in the flimsiest of roles) beyond the risks. The screentime he has with Brando is both sublime and funny, showcasing their talent for improvisation and making you wonder why the 77-year-old doesn't come out to play more often. The standout performance however is left to Norton. Playing two distinct roles, the cocky Jackie and Brian, his alias while he poses as a janitor with learning difficulties in the Customs House, he brings an electricity to the film without ever trying to hijack any scene for his own ends. Half the time you wonder whether De Niro and Brando were as excited about working with him as he was with them.

In an age when the special effects people are the real stars of most American films, it's heartening to see a big name, but character-driven, film like 'The Score'. And while you'll telegraph its plot twist ten minutes before it actually happens, you'll be too wrapped up in the performances to care.

Harry Guerin