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Good Will Hunting
  • Composed by Danny Elfman
  • Music Box Records / 2014 / 45m

It was a simpler time.  We didn’t have colour-coded “terror warning” indicators from the government.  If someone mentioned a credit crunch, you’d think they were talking about a great breakfast cereal or something.  Moviegoers actually viewed Ben Affleck with some affection.  Ah, 1997.  The reason for that affection was, of course, Good Will Hunting, which he wrote and starred in with his pal Matt Damon.  It was directed by Gus Van Sant who reunited with his To Die For composer Danny Elfman, and it was a significant moment in the latter’s career, a turning point of sorts as he moved away from the grandiose style that had dominated his career up to that point to something much smaller.  There had been hints of it previously – not least in his other score for this director – but Good Will Hunting was the dawn of a new sound that would go on to dominate his career in the years to come, one that alienated a few of his fans but won him some other ones and perhaps finally shook off the ludicrous “he’s not a real composer!” badge that had been jealously thrown at him since his move into film music from the world of rock (another thing that’s different – these days the mud is thrown at anyone who actually is classically-trained, with their old-fashioned ways).

The relatively brief score offers generally rather low-key accompaniment to the film, the most arresting feature being the Irish tinge thanks to the pennywhistle and a lovely Morricone/The Mission-style motivic fragment that is used incredibly fluidly and serves as the main theme of sorts.  These are explored most fully in the opening and closing titles – in between Elfman creates this kind of kaleidoscopic atmosphere which perfectly represents Damon’s character, a genius struggling with everyday life.  Fluttering winds are used, there’s sometimes nervous tension from keyboards and percussion, a magical air from an occasional choir.  On the surface it’s a little like a subtler precursor to James Horner’s A Beautiful Mind, but whereas Horner was as usual all about emotion with his score, Elfman has a much more intellectual, slightly emotionally distant approach and it serves its film perfectly.  The album features the full half-hour score by the composer (running a few minutes longer than the promotional album which until previously was the only way to experience the score outside the film) along with the Elliot Smith songs which feature so prominently in the film.  At the time it was first heard, the score took a lot of people by surprise; looking back now, it’s fascinating to see the seeds being planted which would grow over the next period of the composer’s career.  This is of course an essential release for fans of the composer and should have a wider appeal, showcasing a very distinctive and undeniably very clever musical approach to the film; I think he took it further and improved on it in later scores, but this is a welcome album indeed.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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  1. Paul Smith (Reply) on Saturday 8 March, 2014 at 19:10

    Great review. I’ve loved this score for years.