Ever wonder what happened to Nic Cage? Shawn Ku’s bombastically bleak B-movie gives you the chance to find out. I should warn you, though, it isn’t pretty. The renowned actor has gone from Raising Arizona to a career Left Behind.
A Score to Settle could be the preparatory title for all of these “I’m too old for this” revenge movies. An old soul caged by the impassable bars of grief and loss; so he must get revenge on those who have made his life so miserable. And what exactly has made his life so miserable? Oh, you know, the usual: the death of his wife, a drugged-up son, along with 19 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. It’s a possible premise in an impossibly formulaic film.
“…he must get revenge on those who have made his life so miserable.”
It’s astounding that Ku, the director of the critical darling Beautiful Boy, could have followed up the Oscar contender with a Razzie contender. A parable on renewal disguised as a Hollywood melodrama, Beautiful Boy was both a beautiful achievement in its own right and a promise of great things to come for the 68-year-old director. It didn’t quite go as planned. Despite a similarity in themes and tone, this is a Liam Neeson vehicle without the commercial appeal (and without Liam Neeson).
At first glance, the premise is promising. Cage’s Frank has just been released from jail, and he decides to make up for lost time with his now-adult son. It’s funny to watch him rediscover his smile as he discovers smartphones. And the two have a blast blowing through money at a chic hotel. At second glance, A Score to Settle reveals itself as a swarm of cliches that ring louder than bullets.
Most of the borrowing in John Stuart Newman’s script comes from dependable sources–Leon: The Professional, Taken, Road to Perdition— but the script never finds time to add its own personality. The suspense, or what passes for it, comes when Frank tracks down those who ratted him out. This takes him to bars, strip clubs and weddings–the venerable sources for dingy shootouts. At various points he is beaten, stabbed and shot while trying to save the day; but Cage can never save the film because he is given nothing to do but be beaten and sulk like a tantrum-riddled toddler.
“…he is given nothing to do but be beaten and sulk…”
To call his performance sleepwalking wouldn’t suffice given that he is playing a sleepwalker. At the mercy of insomnia, he is a mercenary with a ticking clock. Fittingly, he falls for a lady in a mercenary field. A missionary of good fortune, Simone (Karolina Wydra) is a high-end prostitute that falls for Frank’s good-guy charms. You can’t blame her. Those sideburns would catch any woman’s eye.
While watching these smaller moments, as Frank tries to navigate social interactions for the first time in 20 years, you will find yourself rooting for the guy. It’s when the action picks up that this goes off the cinematic rails. The action sequences seem to be shot and edited on iMovie. The score eerily sounds like someone gasping for breath, but the desaturated setting is lacking airiness. Shouldn’t a movie about renewal be allowed some life? “It’s not the old days anymore,” an old pal tells Frank. It’s what Nicholas Cage fans will be thinking throughout the run time.
A Score To Settle (2019) Directed by Shawk Ku. Written by John Stuart Newman. Starring Nicolas Cage, Benjamin Bratt, Noah Le Gros, Karolina Wydra, Ian Tracey.
4 out of 10