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  • Composed by Alexandre Desplat
  • WaterTower Music / 2012 / 58:37

A few years ago you’d have got a few belly laughs if you’d said that Ben Affleck, much-derided actor, would go on to become a director of considerably acclaimed films; but that’s exactly what’s happened, with Gone Baby Gone and The Town both getting rave reviews and now Argo following suit.  It’s about the 1980 CIA operation to rescue six US embassy staff who were in hiding in Iran following the revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power and stars Affleck himself leading a talented cast also including Alan Arkin and John Goodman.

The director’s previous films were both scored by Harry Gregson-Williams, but he’s made a change this time round, bringing on board the highly-respected and improbably prolific Alexandre Desplat (this is the seventh of nine Desplat-scored films to be released during 2012).  The composer builds to an extent on the sound he established during one of his international breakthrough scores (2005’s Syriana) but he takes it off in different directions for a score which will probably be an easier listen for most people than that one thanks to the increased orchestral element and the couple of notable concessions to mainstream Hollywood-style Americana.

Alexandre Desplat

Before any of that, the opening cue introduces a very rich sound full of traditional Persian instrumentation, flavourful and satisfyingly removed from the usual Middle Eastern cliché sound favoured by Hollywood composers.  The dreaded “wailing woman” does make a couple of appearances, but there’s an air of authenticity about the way the vocal’s used which rather sets it apart; and indeed it is in the use of other vocals in which Desplat really shines here, in particular the kind of whispered scat music used on occasion, quite ingeniously, to create a fast-moving, tense sound which really is rather inspired.  Even when the score is not particularly melodic, it is utterly compelling, with “Held Up By Guards” being a prime example, the never-ending percussion ratcheting up the tension levels.  The exotic percussion is used throughout for a similar effect, and works particularly well.

The two crowd-pleasers are “The Mission” and “Cleared Iranian Airspace”, pieces of warm, fully-orchestral Americana that might come as a bit of a surprise to die-hard fans of the composer but which somehow actually blend in rather well with the rest of the score.  A little piano theme is heard in several cues and offers more than a hint of warmth whenever it appears.  I’m sure there will also be a lot of fans of the fast-paced action material – not crash-bang-wallop action, it’s more considered than that, but it’s undoubtedly exciting and the Persian soloists add a unique flavour to it (“Breaking Through the Gates” is wonderful).

What I love most about Argo is that Desplat – renowned as a precise, sometimes even clinical, composer – has so successfully written music which conveys a genuine sense of chaos.  You never know quite what’s round the corner and are constantly compelled to find out.  The dramatic drive that runs through it all is very powerful, as carefully-crafted as music by this composer always is, but with an unusual edge to it.  I guess this might actually draw in a few film music fans who find it more difficult to warm to Desplat than I do; it’s certainly an exploration of a different side to the composer than is often heard, and is very creative and rewarding.  Highly recommended.  ****

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  1. KilklineNut (Reply) on Monday 22 October, 2012 at 09:54

    Interesting point about the sense of chaos. Sometimes you do just want Desplat to cut loose and go unhinged.

  2. Bernardo (Reply) on Wednesday 13 February, 2013 at 16:22

    Having seen the movie i think this score absolutelly does nothing for the movie. Having music or not, it’s the same. Actually, in the ending seconds of it, it kind of does everything wrong, If you saw the movie you know what i’m talking about, i don’t want to give out spoilers in here. So, i would rate this score 2 stars (out of 5). I love movies, i studied cinema, i’m a soundtrack fanatic, so i can’t understand the praise on this movie and it’s score. But ok,, that’s just me.

  3. George (Reply) on Friday 11 September, 2015 at 20:14

    I love the final, beautiful hymn at the climax of the movie, with the clearing of Iranian airspace. It is the one and only reason I truly love this score, and is one of the finest and most interesting new uplifting tunes I’ve heard out of Hollywood in quite some time. The first movie I ever saw in my life was Star Wars, and perhaps for that reason the only types of music that affect me emotionally are bright, glorious, uplifting melodies, of unusual character and originality. The finale of Argo has this in spades; it is the music of the purest happiness, of pure victory and relief, and after I first heard it I was whistling it for weeks. I have trouble enjoying most other types of music of any kind, particularly the darker types (and of course all popular music everywhere – Ugh!) – although there are of course exceptions to my own rule (Eliot Goldenthal’s astonishingly creepy music for Alien 3, which I firmly regard as the most thrillingly scary music ever written.) But bright, glorious, uplifting music is what it’s all about for me; and I wish there were more lovely hymns like that at the end of Argo in the world; difficult to find, but extraordinary and moving.