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Terrific, intelligent score from Shore for Scorsese
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Warner Bros.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
After years of working with Elmer Bernstein, Martin Scorsese seems to have another dynamite composer relationship on his hands. After things didn't work out with Bernstein on Gangs of New York, the lauded director tracked in a concert piece by Howard Shore into various places in the film, and he has since hired the composer for his next two films - the music for The Aviator was clever, dark and full of rumbling thunder; and now for The Departed, Shore has pulled a highly-unexpected, original work of real quality from somewhere.
The film is a remake of the (deservedly) acclaimed Infernal Affairs, with an extraordinary cast (Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin). There is a deep irony in the musical comparison between the two films - the Hong Kong original features a very stylised, but essentially old-fashioned Hollywood type score by Kwong Wing Chan - but Shore's inventive music for the remake is a million miles away from an old-fashioned Hollywood type score.
I don't know where the idea came from, but Scorsese came up with the inspired request that the main theme for the film be a tango, which led Shore to make heavy use of guitars (they dominate every track) - and the result is an absolute treat. The main theme is introduced in the first piece, "Cops or Criminals", and it swaggers with style and vigour, representing the mystery and (to use the composer's own word) duplicity of everything that's going on. It is later developed into an intensely passionate, enthralling finale to the album, "The Departed Tango". "344 Wash" presents the darker side of things - it's still the guitar, but this time there is an overtly dark atmosphere, tense and taut. "Beacon Hill" introduces the secondary main theme, a heart-melting piece imbued with a deep sense of tragedy, expanded on later in the score in "Madolyn" and especially the outstanding "Billy's Theme".
It's amazing the huge range of sounds Shore is able to take from what remains a somewhat consistent performing ensemble (and a consistent blend of almost always melodic music played by guitars accompanied by subtle orchestra) - this is demonstrated well in "Chinatown", probably the bleakest of the cues, with some dissonant textures and unpleasant electronica cotrasting nicely with what's around it, yet not seeming to be at all out of place. It's the closest the score really comes to what you might call "action" music, but the composer takes a rather detached (some might say "departed") position.
Shore's intelligent cinematic sense is a perfect match for Scorsese's own particular outlook, and with any luck the pair will be collaborating for years to come, with Shore providing music as fantastic as this. The main obstacle is probably the composer getting annoyed as his music is inevitably dumped in favour of songs in some future collaboration, but otherwise this is an exciting relationship indeed which is developing. The Departed is a wonderful album, one of the year's finest, and sees Shore's purple patch continuing.