Not Rated | 1h 43min | Action, Drama, Thriller | 2 August 2019 (USA)
Frank (Nicolas Cage) just got released from prison, and he has a lot of catching up to do. The crime? Murder. The punishment? Life in prison. So why is he getting out early, having served only 22 years of his forever sentence? Good behavior? Not quite.
You see, on the day of Frank’s release, he visits the doctor, and his health issues are revealed. He’s basically dying from a degenerative disease that prevents his brain from resting, rendering him an insomniac of the highest order.
Frank also hates controlled substances, so when the doctor prescribes a medication that can help him with his sleep problems, he’s loath to accept it. The alternative to taking the drugs is extreme mental malaise, including bouts of dementia, mania, hallucinations, and more. His condition has progressed so far that he’s being released from prison early.
Written by John Newman (“Get Shorty”) and directed by Shawn Ku (“Beautiful Boy,” “Pretty Dead Girl”), “A Score to Settle” begins with a very interesting dilemma: Should the aging gangster focus on catching up on father-son time and make amends to his son Joey (Noah Le Gros, “Depraved”), or begin to plot his revenge on the men who set him up for the crime he never committed?
The history of the latter is partially articulated by some pretty grisly flashbacks.
The film opens simply enough. Frank, fresh out of the pen, walks up a road in the dead of night to meet up with his now-adult son. They share some quality time—just walking and talking, you know, catch-up chit-chat. And then the partying starts.
Frank had the foresight to hide a substantial stash of money away during his operations as a mob hit man, but he never got to spend any of it. Desperate for his abandoned son’s acceptance, he spends nearly two decades of pent-up rage and regret distilled into a couple of days of high rolling—several scenes of lavish spending and pompous gluttony.
However, all of the time and attention that Frank showers on his son makes it obvious to Joey that his dad disappears during the nocturnal hours, and Frank realizes that he won’t be able to hide his extracurricular activities from his son forever.
As the film shifts gears and becomes darker in tone, we see that Frank is meeting up with the one man he can still trust: Q (Benjamin Bratt). Q’s an old underworld accomplice who has since gone straight; he even runs an established bar, and his daughter is about to be wed.
But Frank is on the warpath. Any little scraps of information that he can cobble together on the whereabouts of fellow gangsters Jimmy (Mohamed Karim) and Tank (Ian Tracey) will do.
After all, his revenge plans are working against time, since he doesn’t know how long he can keep everything from his son. He also doesn’t know how much longer he’ll be capable of exacting his revenge, due to his failing mental capacities.
A Fatal Mistake (for the Film)
While Frank’s affecting and impassioned desire to win the affections of his son could have carried us through the film, a disingenuously “human interest” distraction arrives: a totally jarring subplot involving Frank’s bizarre affinity for doe-eyed prostitute Simone (Karolina Wydra, “Europa Report”).
It’s almost as if the producers wanted to shoehorn a female in at the last minute, instead of letting men just be men and solve male problems on their own. It’s a grating, incongruous shift.
From there, the film stumbles further. Frank’s vendetta cuts a crimson swath through bad people. We’re treated to bouts of bloody mayhem that are indistinguishable from other gory B-movie offerings out there. The violence cheapens the film; I almost felt as if I’d just played and been duped by a cinematic shell game. The touching (albeit melancholic) familial tumult was promised as the focal point of the film. Instead, the ol’ switcheroo happens.
It’s really too bad because somewhere buried underneath this disintegrating mess of a movie, there was a good story in Newman’s script. Ku is certainly a very capable director as well. The first parts of the film establish Frank’s intertwined, yet separate, desires for both revenge and redemption.
Sticking to a contemplative, family melodrama with a little violence for window dressing would have been best for “A Score to Settle.”
Filmmakers today don’t need to scramble to out-“John Wick” each other. Just tell us interesting stories.
‘A Score to Settle’
Director: Shawn Ku
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Benjamin Bratt, Noah Le Gros
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 2
Rated: 2 stars out of 5