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Surprisingly complex, upmarket music for action thriller
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
A silly but highly-engaging action thriller, F/X saw a pair of fine character actors, Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy, given the leading roles in a film like this for the first time, and it is mostly their presence which elevates it above the slew of other daft actioners from the time (1986 was not a great time for blockbusters). Bill Conti was in his heyday at the time, with The Right Stuff and The Karate Kid not long behind him on the big screen, and North and South on the small.
Only Conti would begin a film like this with a main title cue quite so grand and portentous, and while today it seems in some ways to be a relic of another age, the composer blissfully ignored the temptation to go wild with the electronics, allowing instead the London Symphony Orchestra to give the breadth of sound he needed without artificial assistance. It's a great main theme, though it is slightly misleading in terms of the score, much of which is actually very low-key, taking an intelligent backseat in the film until called upon to do something more.
Instead of just noodling along, Conti's music is actually surprisingly interesting at all times, with subtle orchestral colours playing against each other to create a compelling musical environment. Melody takes a back seat to atmosphere, but Conti skilfully heightens the suspense with slightly jagged feeling winds and strings. There's a great love theme built up from the main theme, given a beautiful, lilting performance by guitar in "The Wrong Hit". When the action comes, it is handled well - "No Loose Ends" is the first action piece, six cues into the album, and "Billy Takes a Bath" is the best, full of excitement - with the vigour and energy so typical of the composer, who is not one prone to understatement in his action music.
"Understatement" is, though, the most appropriate word to use when it comes to F/X - in fact, Conti reigns it in so much at times I wonder whether he might have just let go a bit more. It's a tricky one - his music is fiendishly complex at times, and needs to be heard in its entirity for all the nuances to be fully-appreciated, but there are one or two occasions when the music does drag a little. This 53-minute album greatly expands the only previous release of the score (Varese Sarabande's own LP) and was released in a limited edition of 2,000 in July 2007's CD Club batch; sound quality is strangely variable, with the punchiest cues getting a horrible recording full of artificial reverb, but the more intimate sections being heard in great detail. A great release for Conti fans, but perhaps one which takes a little more patience to fully appreciate than his most crowd-pleasing efforts.