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The Burial

The Burial is not just set in the 1990s, it very much feels as if it was made then. A courtroom drama very much like that decade’s various John Grisham adaptations – only this time loosely based on a true story – it features a real Movie Star performance by Jamie Foxx who is completely electric as a lawyer helping funeral home manager Tommy Lee Jones take on the big boys. Everything about it is like a thirty-year throwback, delightfully including its score, by Michael Abels.

There’s a really nice gentle Americana theme for Jones’s character, introduced in the opening “You Done Good” and heard in various guises throughout the score; I love the melancholy variant in “No Intention of Closing”. Foxx’s character gets a glitzy, glamorous introduction in “Call Me a Child of God” with a bit of funk, though within the body of the score the treatment tends to be more serious as he grapples with the case.

Michael Abels

The throwback nature of the score comes thanks to it being steadfastly melodic and thematic throughout – Abels actually uses the score to say something and add to the film, whereas typically in the 2020s this kind of drama would feature low-key atmospherics that I think even the people involved would struggle to explain the point of. The dramatic arc of the film is clear from listening to the music – decent man starts in a happy place, things start to fall apart for him, impetus arrives, you can guess the ending (but I won’t spoil it). You can hear it all there in the score – little prods as the violins swell briefly, when momentum builds percussion literally adds the rhythmic motion to take the drama forward. It’s not ground-breaking but it’s doing what film music is supposed to do, and because it has that dramatic thrust to it as well as a clear emotional one, it makes a good album.

One thing that pulls it back from being a great one is that most of the cues are very short – there are 23 of them on an album that only runs for 35 minutes – much like Thomas Newman used to do all the time though (and there are stylistic echoes of Newman in particular here, the 1990s version of him) Abels does make each of the short cues a fully-formed vignette, nothing feels unnecessary or doesn’t add something to the whole. A case in point comes with a pair of cues in the middle of the album which run only slightly over a minute each but still manage to tell a story – the strained “Cemetery Without Headstones” drips with feeling, then “Objection Overruled” is serious, dramatic, exciting.

It’s mostly very charming music – think Newman, think also Elmer Bernstein in some ways, do I detect just a hint of John Williams’s Presumed Innocent in “Gonna Have Him On Cross”? – and it hits all the right notes for me. I love the interpretation of Bach at the end. The whole thing’s got drama and emotion and, needless to say, given the length (also 1990s style!) doesn’t threaten for even a moment to outstay its welcome. It’s grown-up film music and I heartily recommend it.

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