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THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Two scores for the price of one
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Universal Studios; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
It's rare these days to read an article about Robert de Niro without seeing him referred to as the greatest actor of his generation; and rare also that the same article doesn't reel off his extraordinary performances of 20-30 years ago and rather skirt over the rest. None of that comes without reason - the size of the chasm it is necessary to jump down in order to go from Raging Bull to The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Still, it is encouraging to note that de Niro has turned his hand to directing again, especially since this time the project seems to offer him more breathing room to tell his own story than the obviously Scorsese-inspired A Bronx Tale.
The Good Shepherd tells about the early years of the CIA, told specifically through the eyes of Edward Wilson, played by the talented Matt Damon; the movie also features an amazing ensemble cast including Alec Baldwin, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, William Hurt, Joe Pesci, John Sessions (!), John Turturro, de Niro himself and Angelina Jolie, who may have made something more of her career if only she weren't so plain-looking. Musically the film has a checquered history, with de Niro apparently unable to decide exactly what he wanted, resulting in James Horner's departure from the movie at a very late stage. In his stead came the duo of Marcelo Zarvos and Bruce Fowler - a more unlikely twosome is hard to imagine than the minimalist, subtle Zarvos and Hans Zimmer's orchestrator, but there you go.
Listening to the album - which features just under half an hour's music from Zarvos, 15 minutes from Fowler and a further half hour of source material - becomes an extremely odd experience. It is entirely obvious that Fowler and Zarvos did not approach this as any kind of collaboration, and indeed seems perfectly possible that they never even met - Zarvos writes one way, Fowler completely another, and the resulting score sounds like two entirely different ones pasted together. I've never heard anything quite so disjointed, and mixing the source music in as well produces one of the most strange film score albums I've ever heard.
The main theme by Zarvos, "Edward", is a dark, mysterious, intelligently-brooding one; it is not hard to imagine that the composer could have got a great deal of material from it had he had the time. Unfortunately, he didn't, so spends much of the time just restating it; the exception comes in the run of four cues all by Zarvos, when the album sounds coherent for the only time, from "Spy Lesson" to "Spy Trade", in which the composer weaves a dark spell which is really quite effective, though even here it doesn't amount to a whole lot more than piano twinkling and murmering string accompaniment. His best piece is actually "The Violin", which offers a lovely solo passage for (take a guess) - that's right, a glockenspiel. Not really of course, it's actually a violin, but it's only 1'25" long and it's hard to recommend an album based on a piece of that length.
Fowler's selections are rather unmemorable apart from his love theme, "Edward and Laura", which is genuinely pleasant and attractive, if just like a thousand others you've heard before. His more memorable contributions probably come in his arrangements of a couple of the source cues. It's a bit of a shame that de Niro's film ended up with music like this - I haven't yet seen it, but I fancy a noir score like Mark Isham provided for last year's The Black Dahliamay have been entirely possible. As it is, the album offers little; a promising opening, but after that it goes down quicker than a cheap hooker at a post-Oscar party. It has its moments, mostly from Zarvos, and it would be lovely to hear these expanded upon; but we can't.