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Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall



Desplat branches out with excellent thriller score


I would have laughed in the face of anyone telling me two years ago that Alexandre Desplat, who had just burst onto the scene with terrific music for Birth and Girl with the Pearl Earring, would during the early part of 2006 be writing music for a dumb thriller starring geriatric action hero Harrison Ford (now firmly stretching the boundaries of credibility) and employing no fewer than six Hollywood orchestrators in order to do it.  It is probably a good thing, therefore, that soothsaying is not part of my job description (well, I suppose it is part of my "day job" description, but that's another matter entirely; and no, I'm not shacked up in a tent at a traveling circus, before anyone asks).  Here we are with Firewall - coming a few months after another unlikely assignment for the composer, the Bruce Willis vehicle Hostage.  Personally, I think it's a great thing that he has branched out in this way, for it has allowed for a far greater breadth of music than he could ever provide by sticking to relatively low budget arthouse fare.  Some of the most interesting film music has been composed for unambitious, trashy films.

Desplat is probably the most exciting new film composer to have emerged since Elliot Goldenthal in the late 1980s (and he is a good example of a composer who has sometimes managed to carve magnificent pieces of music out of the raw materials provided by the most stupid of big budget blockbusters) but it was certainly a doubt whether he would be able to write the kind of balls-to-the-wall action music that a film like this would demand (he took a far more detached approach to Hostage).  Five seconds into the opening cue, all doubt has been arranged, with some dynamic and exhilarating action music pounding away yet retaining the composer's highly-personal, highly-distinctive musical personality.  It's powerhouse stuff.

Perhaps surprisingly, it is in the sections in between the big action set-pieces that the score falls a little flat, with Desplat not maintaining quite the level of interest he usually seems to throughout.  Suspense music is the hardest thing to write in an interesting manner, and it's tempting to fear the worst when the second cue arrives - the midi drum loops of "Surveillance" could come from something by a far lesser talent.  As soon as interest wanes, however, Desplat rouses the listener with something much better, and after the lukewarm "Surveillance" comes the terrific "Breaking In", which has the panache of (dare I say) a 1970s thriller score by the master of them, Jerry Goldsmith.  This impression is continued with "The Camera Dances", which is actually a really good suspense cue with stylish synths, developing into more top action music, notable by clear and precise orchestration and excellent brass playing by the always-brilliant Hollywood musicians. 

There's a reprise of the opening action music in "The Epi-Pen" which is more brilliantly thrilling stuff, before a welcome change of pace with the affecting, emotional "The Family Theme", a demonstration of the better-known side of Desplat's gifts.  The lengthiest track is the well-constructed ten-minute piece "Escape from the Bank" (a process I myself have attempted on several occasions when I see the discrepancy between the interest they're willing to pay me on my savings compared with the interest they would demand on a loan); again I must observe that the synth percussion backing is unlike anything you might expect to hear from this composer, but the orchestral parts are as compelling as ever.  Pick of the action music is probably "Looking for Help", a hard-hitting and thrilling piece.  The way Desplat builds the piece, gradually adding layer upon layer of repeating cyclical phrases, is just like Goldsmith used to.

There's still time for another terrific (and lengthy) action set-piece, "The Fight", and by the time Desplat brings things to a close in the satisfyingly warm "Together Again", Firewall has become one of the most impressive action thriller scores for years.  To hear a score like this from the composer is just another piece in the jigsaw which confirms him as the young film composer of note at the moment, and with such an impressively varied suite of projects over the last couple of years, it points to an extremely promising career ahead.

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  1. Firewall (3:16)
  2. Surveillance (3:38)
  3. Breaking In (2:56)
  4. The Bank (:57)
  5. First Night (1:21)
  6. Hostages (3:24)
  7. The Camera Dances (3:47)
  8. The Epi-Pen (3:59)
  9. The Family Theme (1:21)
  10. Escape From the Bank (10:23)
  11. Looking For Help (3:04)
  12. Exchanging The Files (2:10)
  13. The Fight (7:14)
  14. Rainy Day (3:15)
  15. Together Again (1:20)