'A Score to Settle': Film Review

A Score to Settle-Publicity Still 3-H 2019
Courtesy of RLJE Films
Eminently forgettable.

Nicolas Cage stars as a wronged ex-con out for revenge in Shawn Ku’s action thriller.

For better or worse, a movie starring Nicolas Cage, at this point in his career, arrives with certain expectations: gritty settings, a degree of reluctant male emoting and, of course, inevitable violence. Whether it’s a brand or just a rut, Cage is known to deliver on these particulars, although often with variable results. A Score to Settle suggests that all the familiar elements will be in play, intensified by an unquenchable craving for revenge, but unfortunately director Shawn Ku’s approach minimizes them to such a degree that even avowed Cage acolytes may get turned off by this forgettable feature. 

Released from prison after serving a 19-year stint without so much as a cursory visit from friends or family, Frank Carver (Cage) has only one thing on his mind: getting revenge against his former capo Max (Dave MacKinnon). He’s still enraged about taking the rap for a bloody, brutal murder that the mob boss committed against a rival Oregon gangster, forcing Frank to abandon his young son in return for a sizable payout and a lengthy prison sentence. Once he’s back on the streets, Frank meets up with his 20-year-old son, Joey (Noah Le Gros), a recovering junkie but still the last person he cares about in the entire world. You see, Frank is sick, very sick. Before he can catch up with his old crew, including Max’s enforcers Q (Benjamin Bratt), Jimmy (Mohamed Karim) and Tank (Ian Tracey), he may even drop dead from a fatal form of insomnia that’s draining his vitality and causing painful, transitory hallucinations.

First though, he has to attend to the necessities, like digging up the stash of nearly half a million dollars in cash Max forced on him, purchasing some black-market weapons and checking into a fancy hotel with Joey to get reacquainted with the good life. With no leads on Max’s whereabouts, he pays a visit to Q, who claims he’s going straight after opening his own bar and says Max died years ago after their former boss suffered a stroke. Spiffed up in a new suit and sporting an expensive watch, Frank relentlessly carries on his search for the rest of the gang, tracking down Tank and then Jimmy with violent intent, when he suddenly turns up a lead indicating that Max is still alive. As his mental and physical condition rapidly deteriorates, jeopardizing his plans for retaliation and maybe his life as well, Frank presses on toward a fateful showdown. 

John Newman’s (Proud Mary) muddled script falters almost from the outset, saddling Cage with a character who’s practically sleep-walking through the movie because he’s so debilitated by insomnia. Then the plot stalls out as Frank settles into his luxurious hotel and attempts to bond with Joey, postponing any real action until well into the movie’s second half. A final, momentous twist can’t reverse the neglect foisted on the cast, however, particularly since it does nothing to alter the trajectory of the action.

Since he wasn’t called upon for a typically overreactive performance, Cage probably appreciated the chance to relax, but he really just seems bored, even when delivering a critical monologue at the film’s conclusion. It’s all pretty underwhelming, particularly since Bratt’s performance isn’t any more engaged by comparison, which makes for just another in a disappointing series of missed opportunities.

Ku shows a decent grasp of plot mechanics, but never manages to adequately develop the characters or effectively modulate the film’s pacing, even in the brief action scenes, which prove too tame by typical Cage standards.

Distributor: RLJE Films
Production companies: Highland Film Group, Gold Rush Entertainment, Minds Eye Entertainment, Spartiate Films, Paragon Media Productions, Saturn Films, Ingenious Media
Nicolas Cage, Benjamin Bratt, Noah Le Gros, Karolina Wydra, Mohamed Karim, Dave MacKinnon, Ian Tracey
Shawn Ku
Screenwriter: John Newman      

Producers: Eric Gozlan, Kevin DeWalt, Danielle Masters
Executive producers: Nicolas Cage, Shawn Ku, Richard Iott, Mark Weissman
Director of photography: Mark Dobrescu
Production designer: Kathy McCoy
Costume designer: Maxyne Baker
Editor: Chad Galster
Music: John Kaefer

104 minutes