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3:10 TO YUMA
Terrific western score sees Beltrami take cue from Morricone, filter through his own voice
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Lions Gate Entertainment, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall
High-profile westerns don't come along all that often these days, but when done right can still be just as entertaining as they ever were. One resolutely "done right" is James Mangold's remake of 3:10 to Yuma, coming fifty years after the first adaptation of Elmore Leonard's short story, and that rare thing - a remake done not trying to cash in on a past triumph, or because of a dearth of new material to work with - but because the filmmakers thought they could actually do it better than it was done in the first place. Mangold's terrific film features a fine cast, led by Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, and is a classic western story about redemption. Bale plays a Civil War veteran who has fallen on hard times, and who seeks to do something with his life by escorting notorious criminal Crowe across country to put him on a train to prison.
If the film takes is cue as much from Sergio Leone as any American director, then the music inevitably features nods towards Leone's composer-of-choice, but Marco Beltrami's score is far more than a simple pastiche. He takes some ideas from Ennio Morricone, injects his own, and comes out with a score whose lineage is clear but has plenty of interesting ideas of its own and is entirely relevant in a 2007 film. It anchors itself around two main themes, one for each of the main characters - a gritty little motif for Crowe's character and a more contemplative, long-lined theme for Bale's. Both are memorable, but the best thing about the score is how Beltrami grows the music so much as the film progresses, uses the themes in such a malleable fashion.
The other noticeable thing is the instrumentation. This is where the Morricone influence is most keenly felt, with innovative choices meaning a lot of natural sounds are injected into the score in an always-musical way. Strings inside a piano are plucked; then bowed with a fishing wire; it's creative, and the sound produced is somehow both fresh and original - and manages to sound like classic western music of old.
I guess where the score really shines is in the action music. It's tight and carefully-controlled by Beltrami - he doesn't really let the music off the leash all that often, instead allowing things to gradually build to the explosive finale - but it's undoubtedly some of the most thrilling of 2007. "Barn Burn" is a dark piece, but it's full of stark emotions, and the first hints of the redemptions to come for both characters. The clustered brass dominate there; but the composer also uses guitars to create a thrilling atmosphere in pieces like "Indian Grounds". The first time everything comes to the fore - the guitars, pizzicato strings, low-end piano and finally expansive trumpet theme - is in "Chinese Democracy", and it's more than worth the wait.
Beltrami saves the best for last, with a wonderful sequence of tracks closing out the disc as the tension which he has carefully built up over the course of the score is finally released. That happens in "Bible Study", a classic "last man standing" type piece which sees the main theme presented in classic Morricone style on trumpet accompanied by choppy strings and guitars - a wonderful film music moment, one of 2007's best. Then, as the moment of redemption for Crowe's character arrives, his theme is given a more expansive treatment too in "Who Let the Cows Out?", before the score is rounded out by a contemplative version of the main theme for the end titles. Beltrami nailed the film and his excellent score - his finest to date - was rewarded with a surprising, but completely deserved, Oscar nomination.