- 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.
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