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Artwork copyright (c) 2003 Focus Features LLC; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Horrible, tuneless mess


Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu followed up his acclaimed Amores Peros with 21 Grams, a story looking at how three completely different lives come together and are irreparably altered by a terrible traffic accident, with Sean Penn and Benicio del Toro leading the cast; the acclaim has been just as high this time out.  Gonzalez reunited with Peros composer Gustavo Santaolalla, this time taking the unusual step of recording the entire score before the film was even shot (a technique used brilliantly by Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone on their partnerships).

Unfortunately, the music is dour and depressing to a fault.  Central American music was given such a boost by Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club collection that I suppose the ignorant (such as myself) always hope for something as awe-inspiring and beautiful from musicians just south of the border, which makes something like 21 Grams very hard to take.  The music is performed by a very odd ensemble dominated by atmospheric synths, guitar and percussion (with the emphasis well and truly on the former).  There is very little melody; instead, Santaolalla creates an atmosphere of deep-rooted and miserable depression, taking the listener on what seems more like a drug-induced trip through the depths of existence.  And, quite frankly, I don't particularly want to go on something that seems like a drug-induced trip through the depths of existence and I'm sure that if you, dear reader, did want such a thing then you would just cut out the middle man and go for the drugs in the first place.  Even the various songs are no better, such as the six-minute version of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" which is "performed" in a breathy, emotionless monotone by Benicio del Toro; Bill Haley must indeed be shaking, rattling and rolling wherever he is at the very thought of this particular version.

I think you need to be a special kind of person to like music like this.  Slightly deranged, perhaps.  The funny thing about being a fan of film music (and arguably the greatest thing) is that it encompasses so many fine composers of such a massive range of styles of music, from jazz to pop to blues to loads of types of classical.  Along the way, you're bound to bump into genres you wouldn't usually explore, and end up wishing you hadn't.  I know it's a deeply personal opinion and no writer of criticism is meant to sink to such depths, but I can't stand music like this.  It just seems to have no soul, no passion, no pleasure, no point.

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  1. Do We Lose 21 Grams? (2:28)
  2. Can Things Be Better? (1:16)
  3. Did This Really Happen? (1:02)
  4. Cut Chemist Suite Ozomatil (4:32)
  5. Should I Let Her Know? (1:27)
  6. Can Emptiness Be Filled? (1:05)
  7. Shake, Rattle and Roll Benicio del Toro (6:09)
  8. Can I Be Forgiven? (1:37)
  9. Low Rider WAR (3:08)
  10. Is there a Way to Help Her? (:45)
  11. Does He Who Looks for the Truth, Deserve the Punishment for Finding It? (1:41)
  12. You're Losing Me Ann Sexton (2:17)
  13. Can Dry Leaves Help Us? (3:53)
  14. Can we Mix the Unmixable? (1:59)
  15. Can Light be Found in the Darkness? (2:22)
  16. When Our Wings are Cut, Can We Still fly? (2:27)