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The Sisters Brothers
  • Composed by Alexandre Desplat
  • Lakeshore / 60m

It’s hard to believe that The Sisters Brothers is not a Coen Brothers film – its name, its setup (darkly comic western, a pair of assassins chasing a chemist with a special formula for catching gold), its stars, the fact that the man with the formula is called Herrmann Kermit Warm – but it isn’t, it’s directed by Jacques Audiard – his first English-language film, in fact.  Any excitement about the fact that we were to get a western score from Alexandre Desplat should have been set against the backdrop of his past scores for this director – generally stark, often low-key, emotionally bare – it was unlikely that we were ever going to hear the composer going full-on Elmer Bernstein.  Indeed, in an interview to publicise the film, the composer said he tried hard to avoid being influenced by Bernstein or indeed Ennio Morricone – I do think there are some elements of the latter here but they are more in the approach than the compositional technique.  It is indeed a dark, stark piece of work highlighting what the composer describes as a “jazz combo” but it must be one of the most unusual jazz combos ever put together – prepared piano, electric violin, two cimbaloms, timpani and a bass.  (There’s a string orchestra and some electronics used too.)

I love the main theme: that peculiar ensemble comes together to play a piece that is unmistakably for a western even if it doesn’t sound much like anything else in particular.  Desplat has this ability (seen also in his Wes Anderson scores) to write these little vignettes which are so quirky and memorable, and this is a gem – it’s heard in a three-minute version near the start of the album and an extended eight-minute one at the end (the latter doesn’t seem to be on all versions of the album release so be careful to get one that does).  Much of what comes between those bookends is related thematically in some way – the composer gets a lot of mileage from his theme.  “To Jacksonville” and “To San Francisco” are my favourite cues from the body of the score – there’s a real energy to them somehow coexisting with the quirky easy-going charm of the main theme.  “Folsom Lake” is really pretty – its folksy charm quite irresistible.  Don’t expect any expansive, wide-open-spaces western music because there isn’t any: it’s a little livelier than the composer’s scores for the director tend to be, but it is still pretty raw at its heart and there are many passages of real darkness.  “Gun Fight” sees rumbling drums and nothing else for fully two-and-a-half minutes before dark strings take over – it’s that kind of score.  It’s impressively done for sure – and I do love the main theme – but despite the quirky moments it can get rather intense and is sometimes blacker than coal so the hour-long album isn’t one I’m likely to want to return to particularly often.

Rating: ***

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  1. Thiv (Reply) on Monday 22 October, 2018 at 00:05

    Agree with your review 🙂 Meanwhile I’m still waiting for that Ocean’s Eight review.