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FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS
Simple but effective, sometimes moving, serious score from Composer With No Name
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 DreamWorks LLC and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
Clint Eastwood has made some very fine films as director, often attracting more in the way of critical praise than good box office because of their slow-moving, highly-considered nature. The recent success of the excellent Million Dollar Baby however, made the director's latest film, Flags of our Fathers, one of the most-anticipated of the year. It covers the stories of six men who fought during the Battle of Iwo Jima during the Second World War, and has a strong cast including Jamie Bell, Robert Patrick, Ryan Philippe and Ken Watanabe.
Ironically, despite his rise to fame being driven in no small part by being fortunate enough to star in films with iconic scores (A Fistful of Dollars and its sequels), Eastwood-as-director has never seemed to have much interest in having strong scores in his films, preferring instead a very low-key approach. More than a dozen consecutive movies were scored by his old friend Lennie Niehaus, with the director sometimes contributing a theme or two he had written himself, and while the music was frequently inoffensive and generally very nice, it rarely rose above that and tried to do anything of much interest for the films, leading to what are really a string of missed opportunities, musically. Finally, at the age of 73, Eastwood decided to take the plunge and score one of his films entirely by himself, with Mystic River. He followed that up with Million Dollar Baby and continues in his role as director/composer here. Baby's score was actually very fine, with the tender approach suiting the film particularly well and making for an impressive, if brief, soundtrack album.
For a film like Flags of our Fathers, perhaps a more substantial score was required, but without wanting to be too cruel, this was never likely to happen since Eastwood's compositional abilities are presumably extremely limited, I guess extending to no more than being able to play out melodies on the piano and passing these on to Niehaus, who is still around to orchestrate and conduct. So there is still nothing here that rises beyond being very simple, but there is certainly more meat on the bone than may have been expected - whether this is down to Eastwood having more about him than many had assumed, or simply a more substantial role for Niehaus, is unclear - but the results are again impressive.
The album consists of a mixture of Eastwood's music and some old standards, arranged by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens - they are an eclectic bunch which make for a rather jumpy album, and for maximum enjoyment I would suggest programming them separately. The score begins with the brief "The Photograph" before the first surprise comes in "Wounded Marines", which is a very dissonant piece that certainly wasn't written by someone sitting tinkling on a piano - tortured discordant brass and brief bursts of shakuhachi underpin the tense, effective piece. Towards the end of the track, the main theme first appears for piano and trumpet - it's an exceptionally-simple waltz, but works very well because it is stripped down to such a basic arrangement, and is genuinely moving.
"Armada Arrives" opens with militaristic snare drums, before the dissonance returns and then a forceful theme for brass emerges. This is all fine, but I suppose the reason some people might be disappointed is that the music is pretty subtle throughout and pieces with names like "Inland Battle" and "Flag Raising" might be expected to be rather more up-front than the subdued, virtually-droning pieces that they are. I still find them somewhat compelling, but it just might not be what floats the boat of people who would rather the music sounded like, say, The Great Raid. "The Medals" is the fullest and most satisfying performance of the warm, touching main theme.
Flags of our Fathers is a very simple score, as expected, but with perhaps more breadth than some might have thought - and I have to say that there is very much room for simplicity and sparsity in modern film music, given the wall-to-wall nature of so many scores these days. This won't be an album for everyone, but I certainly find it to be a very pleasant listen, and wouldn't be too surprised to see Eastwood get some attention when the award nominations come about, like he deservedly did for Million Dollar Baby.