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Gone Girl
  • Composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
  • Columbia / 2014 / 87m

David Fincher’s latest glossy bridge from mainstream “airport bestseller” into critically-praised movie comes in Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn’s novel about a man whose life is turned upside down when his wife disappears, with him emerging as the prime suspect.  Fincher seems to have a bit of that old Alfred Hitchcock gold dust, managing to make films that appeal on different levels to different types of people – many of his films work as pieces of no-nonsense surface-level entertainment to those who want that, but offer something deeper to those who choose to dig.

Musically, the director has trodden a truly eclectic path over the course of his career, but in recent years has settled on Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and English synth programmer (and occasional NIN producer) Atticus Ross, with the duo scoring his last three movies – they won an Oscar for The Social Network and a Grammy for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and have already received far more buzz for Gone Girl than any other film composers have received for any other score this year, seemingly backed by the kind of publicity machine that only Hans Zimmer could rival in the world of film music.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

I thought those two previous scores were OK in the context of their films, though not the kind of thing I’d ever want to listen to on album, and that’s pretty much the case here too.  For whatever reason, mainstream critics both of films and of music are absolutely falling over themselves with praise for it – I guess this is either a case of them hearing something I just can’t, or their admiration of Reznor thanks to his “day job” is carrying over into enthusiasm that isn’t perhaps warranted.  Either way – I really don’t hear it.  Gone Girl is all about sound design – it’s an ambient layer which provides atmosphere to the film.  That’s a valid approach to film scoring – I can’t think of many films where I’d choose it as the best available approach, but it’s undoubtedly valid.  There’s no emotional manipulation here, in fact no emotion whatsoever – nor is there any particular attempt at musical storytelling – this is pure atmosphere, background chatter in a cafe or the sound of cars driving past on the street.

Cliff Martinez does this sort of thing brilliantly – his atmospheres are absolutely compelling, and the way he manages to take this approach and turn it into an actual storytelling device sets him clearly apart from others who try to do the same thing (Mark Isham also did it very well a decade or so ago, but seems to have abandoned the style since then).  Reznor and Ross certainly aren’t at that level – really, it seems remarkably unambitious what they’re doing, a series of electronic instrumentals that occasionally – but not usually – have some peripheral connection to something specific in the film, but generally serve the same purpose as needle-drops from the Music Supervisor.

This exceptionally long album isn’t a one-note affair – there is to some degree some variety in the various pieces, ranging from straightforward and entirely unpleasant drone through to far more creative blends of sound effects and keyboards, rarely offering a melody but certainly sometimes conjuring a feeling or an image.  I can’t imagine ever wanting to sit and listen to all 87 minutes of it in one go, but actually in this case that’s fine – because there’s no attempt to serve the drama, there’s no particular structure or journey to the album, so dividing it into chunks and listening separately doesn’t detract from the experience.

What surprises me is that I don’t find the album in any way objectionable and I don’t find the approach to scoring the film particularly objectionable either.  We’ve been so pummeled over the last few years by Steve Jablonsky and Ramin Djawadi and Henry Jackman et al writing such musically and dramatically illiterate film scores, that something like this – which is crafted with no shortage of elegance and skill, unambitious though it may feel as a film score – does actually clearly sit on a far higher plane.  The absurd degree of hype may grate, the various film critics falling over each other in an attempt to present Fincher, Reznor and Ross as a modern day Leone and Morricone may be contemptible, but I’ve heard much worse film scores than this in 2014.  That it will probably see its “composers” (a more apt description is surely “designers”) listed alongside Alexandre Desplat, James Newton Howard and co when the awards ceremonies roll around in the new year is patently very silly, but I can’t bring myself to have a pre-emptive kneejerk reaction against that by hating something that doesn’t deserve it.  It doesn’t aim high, it doesn’t do anything that others haven’t done better, but that isn’t in and of itself any great crime against film music; this is nothing special at all, but it’s adequate enough at what it tries to do and the album passes the time nicely enough.

Rating: ** 1/2 | |

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  1. F. Jones (Reply) on Sunday 12 October, 2014 at 07:57

    James “Penguin-Lover” Southall is the LAST person you want to take seriously on the internet, folks. Time and time again it’s been proven that Southall hardly even listens to a score before slapping a rating on it. At least with Broxton’s review, you can tell that he listened to the score. How else would he write a 1900 word essay on the topic?

    But The Penguin Lover strikes again with this trainwreck he calls “writing.” Southall writes his reviews after merely glancing over the album artwork and the composer attached to it. If it’s scored by James Horner or John Debney, it automatically gets full stars. However, if it’s scored by a newcomer like Lockington or Reznor, Southall smashes it to the ground before even listening to it.

    Southall’s not without his good moments, though. The Penguin Lover and I agree on a few things: namely the undeniable fact that Inception is a five star score and that Lord of the Rings is about 11 hours longer than it needs to be.

    On to Gone Girl: I didn’t expect much, because I know you haven’t actually heard it, but your review clearly shows that even if you have heard it, you’ve heard it wrong. You missed all of the nuance, all of the emotions. Instead of ragging on the sounds (God forbid it’s not the London Philharmonic), you should look into the themes and the emotional content. The musical storytelling is there, Mr. Southall, you just have to actually listen to the score!

    In this review, Southall even ADMITS to “not hearing it!” That, right there, James, is a sign that you should leave the ocean of film music reviewers and get back to your lonely iceberg.

    Seriously, to those who bothered to read this comment, before you neglect to buy it, go listen to Gone Girl for yourself. It might not be Korngold, but it does contain a wealth of content, themes, ideas, and textures that you’ve never heard before in film music. Every moment of the score tells a wonderful narrative about the film.
    Not only that, but it does it WONDERFUL job of setting the mood in the film. That’s what scores are for!

    I think it’s time to wave goodbye to, guys, at least until our arctic loving friend gets the message that his reviews are uninformed, outdated, and a waste of everyone’s bandwidth.

    (To be honest, an army of penguins could write a better review than this.)

  2. Jens (Reply) on Sunday 12 October, 2014 at 13:11

    Having just seen the film, which I liked very much, I can only describe Gone Girl as perhaps the most underachieving score I’ve heard in ages. I honestly feel the film would be better off with no music then Reznor’s ambient drone, which isn’t even particularly good at generating dread, its primary intent. This score literally does nothing to enhance any of the film’s subtext. If anything, it’s the other way around: to some, the film’s qualities seem to enhance their perception of the score.

    F. Jones, I posit to you that Southall isn’t critiziing Reznor because he isn’t John Debney or because he’s a “newcomer” (your definition of the word is absurd considering Reznor’s credentials), but simply because he failed to add anything of interest to a film that has the thematic potential for brilliant, complex music with interesting things to say. Two and a half stars is generous in my opinion.

  3. Demetris Christodoulides (Reply) on Sunday 12 October, 2014 at 13:43

    After watching GONE GIRL last night (pretty entertaining but certainly overrated imo), i found the worst, major film score of the year. Except for an ingeniously scored murder scene with some unexpectedly raw and harsh sound design that works wonders in the film, the rest is laughably wrong: cheesy and repetitive 2-3-chord core, painfully simplistic synths that send you right away towards 80’s softcore porn music. Completely distracting, completely wrong choice of music for the entire film. Moreover, it is mixed very loud in the film so that they make sure it constantly draws our attention to its major flaws and annoys the hell out of us for entire film. Their GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was spot-on and dynamic, accompanying the tense film it was scored for, ably. But this laughably bad, a joke. With the words of my wife at the cinema, before we even talked about the score:
    ” why is the music so hideous? “

  4. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Sunday 12 October, 2014 at 18:22

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with “the same purpose as needle-drops from the Music Supervisor,” James. That’s exactly what Reznor and Ross have been asked to do: compose great gobs of music that Fincher and his crew then cut to picture, which means they couldn’t attempt to reflect anything specific even if they wanted to.

    It’s kind of disappointing as an approach; I loved “Social Network” and was meh on “Dragon Tattoo” on album, if not in the film, but it seems Fincher doesn’t want traditional scores anymore, just sonic wallpaper he can cut to fit.

  5. tiago (Reply) on Monday 13 October, 2014 at 02:19

    James, how do you allow trolls like this F. Jones to publish a comment almost as long as your text just to diminish your reviews?

  6. Howard Hand (Reply) on Monday 13 October, 2014 at 03:35

    Great review! The rating is a little generous though.

  7. Michael McDaid (Reply) on Saturday 25 October, 2014 at 17:35

    I watched the film last night, and felt the score was just wrong. It felt distracting and didn’t really enhance the film in any way. I know Reznor & Ross were hand-cuffed by Fincher to create sound and then he edits it and puts it as he pleases. Yet that does not make it enjoyable or listenable. If this wins an Oscar or Grammy then I think it’s on name alone. Gravity by Steven Price is a far better “sound design” score that works with the film.

  8. Michael McDaid (Reply) on Saturday 25 October, 2014 at 17:42

    @Fletcher Jones Calling Reznor & Ross are hardly newcomers at this point. And I guess you didn’t read his review for Gravity or Fury be “newcomer” Steven Price.