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Slightly predictable sports drama score
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Universal Studios; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
I had assumed from the title of his biopic that Ernie Davis was a railwayman; this was only reinforced by the tagline of The Express, "He changed our country one yard at a time." It turns out that he was actually an American footballer, and socially a rather important one, being the first black player to win the Heisman Trophy (which will probably mean more to most of you than it does to me). Director Gary Fleder has had a slightly eclectic career as director, but his first choice of composer has been Mark Isham for a long time, diverting to somebody else only once (to Christopher Young on Runaway Jury) apart from his television work, since 1997's Kiss the Girls.
Isham is not a complete stranger to the sports movie genre, with titles like Miracle and (stretching things a bit) Racing Stripes behind him, though his usually-restrained style would not seem an ideal fit. However, this isn't a film full of rousing sports action, and instead Isham's score is more along the lines of Thomas Newman's excellent Cinderella Man, ie scoring the social aspects of the story more than sports action. This is not to say that this is a score without rousing themes - it's hardly "Gonna Fly Now", but there's a lovely theme introduced in "Jackie Robinson" and another one in "Elmira" which are pretty rousing in a very gentle way (if that makes any sense).
"Training" is the first sign of any real urgency. The subtle horns over a percussive base go back to a style Isham has frequently used in the past; while it lacks the refined melodic sense of his finer works, it's still very effective. An interesting device Isham has used here is a solo vocalist, first heard in "A Good Man". Holly Palmer's contribution is wordless, but very effective and adds a real beauty to those portions of the score where she appears. Later on in the same cue, Isham presents some rousing action music which is, rather startlingly, almost Hans Zimmer-like in its harmonic construction, which is certainly not something we've heard from Isham before.
This is decent music (building towards a predictably rousing conclusion) though I have to say the album doesn't seem to contain the same sense of purpose that Isham usually achieves. There is sometimes a sense that things are meandering along rather than really building towards anywhere. It is competent and quite enjoyable, but the 50-minute running time seems to last a lot longer than that. It's not bad by any means, but like several of this composer's recent scores (since The Black Dahlia) it is pretty good without being at all spectacular.