While these days he may be better known for performances verging on frothing insanity, it should never be forgotten that Nicolas Cage can be a damn fine actor with the right script and direction. Just look at Mandy for instance, a beautiful performance full of barely-contained rage. So do we have the right script and director here? Eh… sort of.
In A Score to Settle, Cage plays the part of Frank Carver, recently released from a life sentence in prison as he’s suffering from insomnia which could actually kill him. This is a real thing, it’s called “Fatal Insomnia” and it’s bloomin’ rare and nobody in the film specifically states that’s what he’s suffering from, but it must be. Don’t imagine prisons are in the habit of letting murderers walk free just because they’re having trouble sleeping. It turns out Joey took the fall for a local mob boss in exchange for a fat payout and a promise to protect his family.
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Problem is, he wasn’t supposed to get a life sentence. Problem is, they didn’t protect his family very well. Meeting up with his estranged son who was little more than a child when he went away, Frankie sets out to make up for lost time while simultaneously tracking down the people who left him to twist in the wind for a murder he didn’t commit.
Most of the runtime is focused around Frankie and Joey (the son, played by Noah Le Gros), so those expecting lots of revenge and violence and gunfights are going to be mostly disappointed, and the ending is… well – it’s ambitious. We have to give the writers credit as they attempt to put in a last moment twist that would make even M. Night Shyamalan blush. It sort of works, but whether an audience will go along with it will depend on if they have become invested in the character of Frankie.
As mentioned above, this is one of the more restrained of Cage’s performances while at the same time it never feels like he’s phoning it in. He’s on fine form as Frankie; old, worn down, constantly exhausted, while at the same time desperate to embrace the chance he’s been given to spend time with his son.
Benjamin Bratt (Coco, Doctor Strange) is in it as well, playing the character of Q (no, not that one) and is as typically charming and charismatic as ever. Mohamed Karim (A Facebook Romance, Dokkan Shehata) is also a high point of the film, playing the character of “Jimmy the Dragon”. He seems to feel the need to make up for a low-key Nicolas Cage performance by chewing ALL THE SCENERY every chance he gets.
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The problem, though, is that there’s not a great deal else that really goes on in the film. While the relationship between father and son is mostly well done, the rest of it feels rather empty and there’s just not a great deal happening. Those expecting an action movie should definitely look elsewhere. This is a film about a man trying to hold onto what little he has left even as he drifts further out of touch with reality. If that doesn’t sound like your particular hot drink of choice, then definitely give this one a miss. A Score to Settle is merely a decent movie, not a great one, and while it has its moments, is unlikely to be remembered as a stand-out moment in the canon of Cage performances.