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Mature, serious score from Zimmer for wordy drama
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.
One of the more unusual-sounding films of the year, Frost/Nixon sees Peter Morgan's acclaimed stage play about the riveting television encounter between the disgraced former president Richard Nixon and one of Britain's foremost television journalists David Frost. OK, so I suppose it doesn't sound that unusual so far, but what makes it so is the director - Ron Howard, king of the Hollywood saccharine, about the last person in the world one might expect to find making this film. Arguably even more unusual is his choice of composer - Hans Zimmer.
A wordy film like this is always going to be very difficult to score - what exactly does the composer latch on to? In days gone by, composers like Alex North and Elmer Bernstein were masters at it, managing to convey the deep human drama despite the lack of exotic locales or simply car chases and explosions which lesser film composers usually have to take their cue from. Zimmer is not a composer who has regularly shown a keen dramatic sense, his music almost always providing accompaniment to the narrative, rather than driving it along, but on rare occasions he has lifted himself above that and when he pulls it off the results can be very impressive; and Frost/Nixon is very impressive.
The music itself is simple enough - choppy strings, a little piano and lots of percussion - but Zimmer is able to generate real energy and passion, scoring the intense encounters almost like a game, with the music swirling around, reflecting the mental torment of Nixon as he tries to dodge the verbal bullets before eventually succumbing. With no big themes, no action, no gags, this was surely well outside the composer's comfort zone, so it's to his credit not just that he tackled it, but he did so with such verve and in a way that actually isn't in any way the easy way out.
The easy way out would have been to bring out a bit of inconsequential musical drone and plaster it over the film, and I imagine most film composers of 2008 would have done precisely that, and that it's Zimmer of all composers who chose the hard route instead is surprising - delightfully surprising. The 43 minutes of music on the album flow together organically - there's no way to listen to this apart from starting at the beginning and ending at the end - you'd never get to experience the dramatic rises and falls otherwise. Still, a couple of cues are worthy of particular mention - the elegiac "Cambodia" is a real beauty; "Nixon Defeated" is an incisive portrait of utmost despair; and the near-ten-minute "First Ideas" (which closes the album) is a dark journey around many of the elements which have made up the score (I wonder from its title if it's perhaps some kind of "demo reel" put together when Zimmer first became involved - of course, I may be entirely incorrect). Frost/Nixon is easily Zimmer's best score since The Thin Red Line a decade ago, a reminder of what he can do. With all the recent fuss over the disqualification and subsequent reinstatement of The Dark Knight's awful music for Oscar eligibility, I assume that Zimmer has forgotten that he said a couple of years ago that he wouldn't ever again submit one of his scores for Oscar consideration - this one really would deserve it.