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Drab drama score is a rare misfire from Doyle
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album cover copyright (c) 1997 Varese Sarabande; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Mike Newell's splendid mob thriller Donnie Brasco, about an FBI agent who infiltrates a crime ring and ends up falling in love with that life, was hugely enjoyable, boasting fine performances from Al Pacino and Johnny Depp and a sharp, clever script (apparently based on a true story). Newell has always moved around between different types of film from one to the next, and made this in between An Awfully Big Adventure and Pushing Tin (and not long after Four Weddings and a Funeral) - an odd choice for a film like this, you might think, but he pulled it off very well. Patrick Doyle might also seem a strange choice for a film like this, though of course he did already have Carlito's Way in his filmography at the time.
The film, as might be expected, features a lot of needle-dropped songs, but even so there is enough breathing room for Doyle to contribute music to some of its pivotal dramatic moments. Surprisingly, he opted for a rather soft, subtle sound, focusing on gentle harmonics and a smallish orchestra most of the time. The score is anchored around a fine (if slightly generic) noirish main theme often heard on violin or trumpet which works pretty well even though it disappears from the memory rather quickly.
The action music is something of a let-down - Doyle plays against it, really, presumably aiming to make it somehow elegiac, but this wasn't really the film for that approach and when coupled with the dire recording which makes it sound like the microphones were placed in the next town to the orchestra, the action music is so thin as to be almost a parody. Compared with the score from another crime thriller released in 1997, LA Confidential, it does not fare particularly well at all. Pick of the action is probably "The Shoot-Out", which builds up to a frenzied climax, and is effectively claustrophobic in the film. Also, the grandstanding of "Donnie's Taken Out" (while almost unimaginably inappropriate in the film) is a fine piece of music, bringing to mind the second coming of Christ or something.
Perhaps the finest piece is the finale, "Donnie and Lefty", where Doyle expands on his main theme, adding a tragic air which is quite moving. However, it's too little too late really, with this being a rare Doyle score that neither functions in its film nor makes a particularly interesting album. It's good to hear Newell having the faith to allow Doyle to go out there and do his thing even on a film for which he was not an obvious choice, but the composer is far more at home on other projects which allow him to be more creative.