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LIONS FOR LAMBS
Smart score with some magical moments
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 United Artists Production Finance LLC; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
It's amazing how the man who was once the biggest box office draw on the planet seems to have become someone who can absolutely turn audiences away from films in their droves by his mere presence, but such has been the downfall in the public affections of Tom Cruise. Lions for Lambs could probably have been anything and reaction to it would have been lukewarm at best; critical response to Robert Redford's film (with an all-star case, including the director and Meryl Streep in addition to Cruise) hasn't been too bad, but it remains to be seen whether it's the complete box office flop that many are predicting.
For composer Mark Isham, he must wonder exactly what's happened in the world of scheduling for him to score three successive films (the previous ones being Reservation Road and In the Valley of Elah) released within a matter of weeks of each other which deal with the consequences of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Writing appreciably different scores for them must have been quite a challenge - and to be honest, he didn't really - there are certainly a great number of similarities between the three.
Lions for Lambs is by far the grittiest, the "dirtiest" perhaps. There are three main themes, and one moment of absolute magnificent - more on that later. The first theme, with synths all over it, is presented in the main titles - it's dynamic and propulsive, but nothing unfamiliar, and I do wonder whether John Powell has closed the book on this style for the time being. "The Berm" introduces the more interesting of the two, a kind of choppy, agitated string theme, though again it doesn't really break new ground. The former is occasionally given a choral accompaniment, such as in "Battle Tent", and again it works well. Isham even does this for the action music (such as it is), most notably in "Firefight", where the beautiful female voices contrast beautifully with the orchestral carnage underneath - this is the standout piece, until that moment later on, with real excitement and real energy and (as with The Black Dahlia) outstandingly crisp and precise orchestrations of a standard which isn't often heard these days in film music.
The more elegaic sections of the score are simply splendid. "Wall of Photos" presents the wonderful third theme - more in keeping with Isham's previous collaborations with this director, in his unmistakable style for a small orchestra of strings and winds, and a quite beautifully moving melody. "Windsock" is also very moving - the device of using the strings in this way to signify heroic sacrifice is one of the oldest in symphonic music, but has lost none of its power.
So, onto that moment of magnificence - a piece which doesn't just make the rest of this (very strong) score pale almost into insignificance, it might threaten to do it to the rest of Isham's career. He's written so many wonderful film scores and jazz albums, but has never qutie scaled the heights of the stupendous "Last Shift", easily the finest piece of film music of the year. Whoever said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture would roll in his grave as I stumble around trying to describe this piece, because no words of mine would do the job, but here goes anyway: a strained passage for strings with piano accompaniment opens it up, drum crashes add atmosphere... and then the strings swell up... and they swell... and swell... but all the time, Isham keeps things from boiling over too far... and then the trumpet appears, playing the most gloriously moving solo. The ability of film music to connect emotionally due to its unique association with dramatic occurrences is probably what draws most people to it, and you won't find a better example than this. In terms of the way it's constructed and developed, even someone like Morricone would be proud.
That piece alone turns an above-average album into a really good one, which is easy to recommend, from a composer who continues on the up and up. No other major film composer has had a busier 2007 than Isham, and it is good to see - for once - that a genuinely talented guy is getting so much work.