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Excellent low-key drama score which is moving in its restraint
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Focus Features LLC; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
The prolific Mark Isham ends 2007 with scores to three serious dramas arriving in quick succession; there's a danger that the attention given to Paul Haggis's In the Valley of Elah and Robert Redford's Lions For Lambs may overshadow the composer's middle project, Reservation Road, but it's attracted rave reviews and looks like being another triumph for director Terry George, following Hotel Rwanda. The film is about the consequences for two families of a hit-and-run death of a child - both for the driver who accidentally ran him over, but didn't turn himself in, and the family of the victim, who lost a son. It's based on John Burnham Schwartz's novel and stars Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly and Mira Sorvino.
Director George says in his liner notes to this album that he was attracted to Isham because of his score for A River Runs Through It - though there is little of that score here, save perhaps for the delicate theme which both opens and closes the album. In between, this is a far darker work. Isham almost always subtly prods the story along when he scores films such as this one, but he still manages to write music with momentum and character, rather than favouring the bland soundscapes of some of his contemporaries.
The most obvious comparison would be with the composer's excellent score for Crash - while not exactly bedfellows, there are obviously similarities in the way Isham chooses to musically tell the story. The biggest difference is that this score features a London-based orchestra, but electronics still have a large role to play, providing rhythm to aid the tension and a texture which isn't available from acoustic instruments - Isham's use of synthesisers in his recent scores has gone way beyond what I hear anyone else doing at the moment, tapping in to their potential rather than using them as the lazy way out. The wonderful sound world of a piece like "Confession Failed" is utterly compelling.
Acoustic instruments certainly have a large part to play, though - the mournful bassoon solos of John Orford add real character to the music. The bassoon is rarely heard in a solo context in film music, but Isham uses it to very good effect here. Virtually ever-present is the piano (played by the composer), as effective as ever at reminding the audience through its familiarity that this is a story about everyday people.
This is a fine score from Isham, a good example of music which can be tremendously effective and quite gripping despite its restraint. It isn't quite at the level of, say, Crash, but is still a recommended album. Isham has shown a remarkable ability lately to get himself attached to prestige dramas, and it's a very nice trait to have (Thomas Newman used to be a man who would score one acclaimed drama after another); it's also inspiring some excellent film music.