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IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
Powerfully elegant portrait of personal tragedy
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Clayton Productions, LLC; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Paul Haggis is a man who has been riding the crest of a wave lately, winning awards from all over the place for writing Million Dollar Baby and Letters from Iwo Jima and directing the provocative Crash; his follow-up to that Best Picture winner is In the Valley of Elah, a sombre drama (message: war is bad) about a soldier killed on his return from Iraq and his father's investigation of his death. Haggis has always worked with composer Mark Isham on the films he has directed and the tv shows he has produced, and Isham's music for Crash was the finest synthesised score for many years, superbly exploiting the opportunity of the electronic medium rather than being pegged in by its limitations.
Indeed, Isham himself has been in top form during the last few years, expanding his horizons no end and delivering many scores from the top-drawer; but In the Valley of Elah is very much a return to a tried-and-tested Isham sound. The subtle orchestration - almost exclusively strings, joined only by synths - and the restrained, elegiac tone are things Isham has delivered many times before, very well, and he has created another superbly-crafted work here.
Isham's music is, above all, contemplative - it is content largely to stay in the background, offering a dignified and deeply personal reflection of the horrors of war through the eyes of the families of those fighting - it is impossible not to be impressed by the composer's singular vision here. The downside is that the music - while compelling on some level - is extremely downbeat and frequently verges on being downright depressing. There is no cheer here - not a shred - with the carefully-constructed mood certainly not being placed under threat by any warmth.
It is very easy to admire film music like this, and for long-time fans of Mark Isham there is no doubt that the album will be a rewarding experience; for the broader public, it will be a far tougher sell. A cautious recommendation, then - but further proof of Isham's growing stature and further proof of his abilities.