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Class Action
  • Composed by James Horner
  • Varèese Sarabande / 1991 / 32m

A John Grisham-ish courtroom drama from before they were invented (it came two years before The Firm), Class Action pits Gene Hackman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio against each other as lawyers on either side of a class action lawsuit against a car manufacturer for knowingly selling defective cars because the cost of repairing them was considered cheaper than the potential cost of lawsuits resulting from injuries or deaths caused by them.  (Rather frighteningly, it’s based on an actual case involving Ford, who allegedly did just that with a model called the Pinto in the 1970s.)

Michael Apted has had a truly varied career as director, from Coal Miner’s Daughter to James Bond, and this is not one of his better-remembered films (in fact it has faded into obscurity) but at the time it was a moderate box office success and attracted strong reviews from the critics.  Apted has worked with numerous composers over the years, rarely using the same one twice, the exceptions being David Arnold (who has scored four of his more recent films) and James Horner, who did Gorky Park early in his own career and Thunderheart just after this.

James Horner

James Horner

It’s safe to say that if the film has descended into relative obscurity, then the same is very much true of its score, which rarely gets a mention even from the composer’s biggest fans (a group to which I unashamedly belong).  And it’s not particularly hard to see why.  Alarm bells start ringing as soon as you see “Composed and Performed by James Horner” on the front cover – the score is one of his virtually all-synth efforts (there is a piano, sax and maybe the bass guitar is real) and not a particularly memorable one.

The main theme is a swirling motif, a touch psychological, which is quite effective but it’s repeated absolutely ad nauseum over the course of the album.  It’s decent and achieves what it sets out to do, but it’s so simple and heard so often (many times during nearly every cue), it becomes more than a little grating by the time it’s done.  When there’s a bit of colour added from the sax there’s a slight film noir quality to it which renders it more tolerable, but (with the exception of the main and end title cues, which are both excellent, a little shade of Sneakers to them) only a bit.

By far the best cue is the second one, “Memories of Mom”, which as its title suggests allows Horner to engage in some of his beloved emotional manipulation, using a solo piano as his delivery mechanism of choice on this occasion, with just a bit of atmospheric electronics as accompaniment.  It’s a really lovely, melancholy tune, typical Horner, a little low-key but real quality.  After that, the same melody appears immediately in “Do You Like Me?” but otherwise it’s fairly uneventful suspense music, that maddening central motif incessantly ploughing away.

Class Action is a perfectly serviceable and competent film score but – rarely for Horner – offers little of interest to the album listener.  A track or two of the suspense music on an album with other facets would be absolutely fine, but I can’t imagine many people wanting to listen to half an hour of it.  Diehard Horner fans will appreciate “Memories of Mom” and maybe a track or two elsewhere but those are fairly slim pickings by this composer’s high standards.

Rating: ** | |

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