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THE GOOD GERMAN
Exquisite tribute to past masters still retains that Newman touch
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Warner Bros.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Steven Soderbergh, critical darling, seems to have possibly met his match, so to speak, with his much-derided The Good German. It's presented in a deliberately retro style, attempting to recreate a murder/mystery style of the 1950s, set around a US officer in Germany during the second world war. Most reviews have found only two things to praise - the look of the film, and its music by Thomas Newman. Originally Soderbergh's Ocean's 11 (and others) composer David Holmes was the highly-unlikely man hired to score the film, but he didn't provide what the director wanted to he returned to his Erin Brockovitch collaborator Newman.
Newman himself might not seem to be the instantly obvious man, but given his musical lineage (and the occasional echoes of Newman père in the string writing of scores like Meet Joe Black) he's certainly qualified for the job. He was tasked with creating music which might actually have been in this film had it been made in the 50s, and he has certainly delivered, taking aspects from Franz Waxman, Miklós Rózsa and Bernard Herrmann (along with less-obvious traits from others, including his father) and - brilliantly - still providing his own unmistakable touch.
The latter is perhaps not particularly obvious in the splendid opening title piece, "Unrecht Oder Recht", a glorious theme which could come from one of those old Humphrey Bogart movies with no problem. The most obvious (Thomas) Newmanisms first appear in "Kraut Brain Trust", a delightful black comedy piece full of the composer's trademarks. Perhaps the score's finest aspect is its bleakly cynical love theme, provided in a beautiful arrangement in "A Good Dose" - it's gorgeous, yet it is very plain to see that Newman is being anything-but-straight in his intentions.
Perhaps where golden age scores most differ from their modern equivalents (in dramatic films like this) is in the suspense-type sections, which today are mostly accompanied by modest rumblings - but in days gone by you would get pieces like "Safe House" (the music seemingly indicating that the house is, in fact, anything but safe) which hammer you over the head with their attempt to create tension - and do it brilliantly! Herrmann himself would have been proud to have written that brief cue (and other, similar ones in this score). A lengthier example is "Dora", with its brilliantly-exciting "action" music capturing the essence of the past masters perfectly.
Interestingly, for all the obvious golden age influence, perhaps the composer I am most inclined to think of when listening to this score (apart from Newman himself!) is John Williams. The orchestration, particularly the string harmonies, show just how similar some of his music actually is to that of his illustrious predecessors. Anyway, whether it be Williams or Waxman, Rozsa or Herrmann, Newman has crafted a wonderful score here which goes far beyond pastiche and is resolutely a solid dramatic musical work on its own terms, an exquisite tribute to past glories yet a relevant 2006 film score in its own right. Wonderful!