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The Finest Hours
  • Composed by Carter Burwell
  • Walt Disney Records / 2016 / 51m

The true story of a 1952 storm off Cape Cod in Massachussetts, The Finest Hours follows the unfolding disaster and in particular the fate of the trawler the SS Pendleton and the attempt to rescue it, led by Chris Pine.  Carter Burwell describes his experience on the film at his website (which is easily the best film composer website out there) – in a nutshell, he wrote an orchestra-only score deliberately designed to be somewhat old school and to serve as a character study as well as support the action, but director Craig Gillespie and Disney gradually decided they wanted something more modern and Philip Klein was asked to provide it, writing more modern and more electronic music based on Burwell’s.  Reading the composer’s words is really rather sad, but at least his original vision for the score is preserved on this album, which does feature a couple of the reworked cues (running to around ten minutes) but mostly focuses on the music as Burwell intended, including many unused cues.

There are two main themes, a romantic piece introduced in the opening cue “Meeting Miriam” and a pastoral piece of Americana representing the spirit of the men going about their business which gets a really lovely arrangement in “Volunteers”; and both are explored in depth in the lengthy finale “Safe Harbour”.  Both are typical Carter Burwell pieces, slightly sparse orchestrationally but evocative and gently moving.  The action material is big as bold – probably as big and bold as this composer would ever get – with some very powerful material.  I love the heroic sound of “The Bucket Line”, massed orchestral forces already threatening to explode by the time a gigantic augmented percussion section starts doing its thing near the end; and that percussion, taiko drums and all, takes centre stage in the uber-dramatic “Pendleton Push”.  The two pieces co-credited to Klein do stick out a bit and are more anonymous but they’re reasonably entertaining and not the kind of Remote Control fest you may expect from Burwell’s description (I don’t know if there are others in the film which are like that), but they do miss the deftness-of-touch he displays elsewhere.  While his action music is certainly big, he does tend to punctuate it with gentler material, including some quite emotional portraits of losing hope.  There are some slightly duller suspense cues on the album, but it’s produced well and has a nice flow to it.  There is a restraint here at times that, as you might expect, means it’s not The Perfect Storm but it’s nice to hear Burwell doing something so different and I hope he’s not put off trying this sort of film again.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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