The Score: catnip for Johnny Flynn fans

This crime thriller musical, starring and soundtracked by the English folk musician, is certainly ambitious – but never quite makes its mark.

Johnny Flynn as Mike in The Score (2021)Rob Baker Ashton

Early on in this British crime thriller-musical, as small-time crooks Mike (Johnny Flynn) and Troy (Will Poulter) drive to the rendezvous where their handover, and prospective fortunes, will be made, Troy notes the many meanings of the word ‘score’: tallying points or goals in a game; an informal term for hooking up with someone or acquiring illicit substances; even a soundtrack.

It’s a hat tip to the way the film’s title encompasses the genre strands it attempts to weave together: folk songs from Flynn’s back catalogue, allied to a virtual three-hander of betrayal, burgeoning romance and £20,000 in loot. If that seems a highly unusual combination, it may make more sense when learning that director Malachi Smyth had initially scripted his debut feature as a straight thriller, only stumbling onto this musical approach when listening to Flynn’s 2017 album Sillion during a rewrite. Smyth enticed the musician with his pitch and enlisted him as co-lead, Flynn subsequently re-recording his tracks with his fellow castmates.

Flynn’s fans will likely enjoy his new, recontextualised renditions; his acting, filling in Mike’s gone-to-seed good looks and tetchy resignation at his receding options, also works outside of the musical accompaniment. Poulter and Naomi Ackie (who is set to play Whitney Houston in an upcoming biopic) can’t quite carry the tunes as well as Flynn can, but the lo-fi, often almost-spoken-word approach doesn’t demand vocal gymnastics or jukebox musical razzle-dazzle – rather, the sort of contemplative soliloquies these accomplished young actors can readily convey.

The main issue is that, while the songs skim prettily across the narrative surface, the dialogue beyond the lyrics, despite the odd sharp one-liner, doesn’t evince dramatic or psychological heft. The waiting game played by Mike and Troy resolutely fails to generate either mounting tension or Godot-ian existential angst. It also strains credibility that Poulter and Ackie connect so profoundly so quickly, particularly given her additional relationship baggage. Meanwhile, Mike and his wife Sally (Lydia Wilson)’s backstabbing plan never convinces as a viable or even necessary gamble, considering the low stakes and the absence of impending threat from other criminals involved.

The provincial roadside café where most of the story unfolds might appear a limited setting, but Smyth and cinematographer Darran Bragg keep the visuals varied and fresh throughout, including cross-cuts between crooners and the occasional split-screen sequence. There’s no faulting the ambition of all concerned. But it’s fitting that one definition of ‘score’ – to make a deep cut or notch – goes unmentioned: ultimately, Smyth never really harmonises his disparate elements into making their own distinct, cohesive mark.

► The Score is in UK cinemas now.