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The Conspirator
  • Composed by Mark Isham
  • Mark Isham Music / 2011 / 44:01

Directed by Robert Redford, The Conspirator is about the trial of a woman accused of conspiring with John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  It’s the eighth film the veteran actor has directed; and the fourth of those to be scored by Mark Isham.  It is also the second release on Isham’s own label and so impressive is the way it has been done (and the first one, The Mechanic), I must draw attention to it.  Isham has released three versions of each of the two scores – one aimed at those interested in a souvenir of the film but not interested in anything musically listenable (i.e. the target audience of 99% of film music releases since union rules on repayments were relaxed about a decade ago, effectively bringing an end to well-produced film soundtracks); one aimed at providing the best possible listening experience, with some cues edited or combined or omitted altogether; and one special edition offering both of those versions along with some other goodies.  They’re available as CDs from the composer’s website, or to download from there or iTunes or Amazon.

Needless to say, I bought the version aimed at people like me, people who want a good listening experience from an album and don’t really care what happened to all the music in the film to get it to this state.  I guess, since I’m 60% of the way into the review and haven’t actually mentioned the music yet, I should say a few words about that.  It’s good – one of those serious string-based efforts the composer has done quite a lot over the years.  Sometimes it’s very beautiful (of particular note is the playing of cellist Zoë Keating, who previously worked with Isham on The Secret Life of Bees) but much is more restrained dramatic scoring.  There is nothing particularly remarkable about it – I guess in that sense it’s a bit like the composer’s previous score for Redford, Lions for Lambs.  Courtroom drama (unless it’s To Kill a Mockingbird) doesn’t usually lend itself towards particularly interesting film music, apart from during the triumphant verdict (if there is one) or the stirring summing-up speeches of the lawyers, the latter of which is what I guess the wonderful “In Times of War, The Law Falls Silent” accompanies.  But that’s a rare moment of expansive beauty in a generally-dark album – an impressive one and a recommended one, but for people like me with literally dozens of other Isham albums, I’m not sure there’s all that much here which is especially new.  *** 1/2

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