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Dull drama score is as bland as it gets
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
JAMES NEWTON HOWARD
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Clayton Productions, LLC; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
James Newton Howard is arguably the most chameleonic of the major film composers. To suggest he doesn't have an identifiable style would be ludicrous, but he flits around from one extreme to the other in terms of the scores he writes - sometimes big and expansive, sometimes very small and minimal, almost always getting the job done, but I think it would be fair to say that there are certain films where he scores them in a way that doesn't ever attempt to do anything more than "get the job done" - the Sydney Pollack wannabe Michael Clayton being the latest of those.
A look through a list of talky dramas scored by Howard does not provide a great number of impressive soundtrack albums - in recent years, Freedomland, The Interpreter and The Lookout have been virtually unbearable exercises in bland scores which spend so much effort desperately trying to avoid getting in the way, they end up falling by the wayside. Sadly Michael Clayton continues the trend. Maybe some day someone will be able to explain to me why the composer is in such high-demand for this type of film, when he seems so much better at other types - and dozens of other composers (most of them probably a lot cheaper) seem so much better at this type of thing.
Synths, of course, dominate here, with a smallish orchestra used sparingly. Howard creates a very bleak and cold atmosphere - fine for the film, but not enough happens in it to justify releasing it on CD. The first interesting track is "Just Another Day", but that's really just a second-rate Thomas Newman rip-off; the next is "Arthur and Henry", with a slight hint of a theme (see - it can be done!) but that disappears as soon as it starts. Best by far is the final track, "25 Dollars Worth", a moving string elegy with genuine dramatic movement and real passion. It would be facile to ask why more of the score couldn't be like that, but I am nothing if not facile - so why couldn't more of the score be like that?
Howard is a composer with a lot of fans, and I'm sure some of them will find things in Michael Clayton which they will enjoy; personally I just can't see anything here which is remotely interesting enough to justify putting out on CD and expecting people to pay to buy. Howard is the only one of the A-list composers who routinely produces score albums like this and I wonder whether really, truly, deep-down he can say he thinks a score like this is the best that could possibly be written for a film like Michael Clayton.