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Newman retreads old ground, but still delivers a fine dramatic score
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album cover copyright (c) 2008 DreamWorks LLC; review copyright (c) 2009 James Southall.
Thomas Newman had been a very successful film composer for a number of years beforehand, but I think it's fair to say that it was 1999's American Beauty that propelled him into the stratosphere. Not his finest score - but a very good one - it became probably the most influential film score of its decade, inspiring countless (worse) knock-offs all over the place. Newman had written in that style before, but in Sam Mendes he seemed to find a collaborator who simply allowed him to be himself - no swelling orchestra anywhere, it's probably the purest Thomas Newman music we've ever heard.
The composer has scored each of the director's subsequent films - the fine Road to Perdition had another super score, and while Jarhead was not as easy to like, it was still a good example of its craft. Their fourth collaboration is Revolutionary Road, the film that reunites the lead couple from the most successful film of them all, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Based on Richard Yates's novel, it's the story of a married couple in the 1950s who simply grow unhappy - with life, with each other, with everything. It's a story that has been told in various forms many times before, and critics weren't particularly kind to the film, but few could deny its visual quality - or indeed its musical quality.
If this score does not find Newman straying far from territory he has trodden on many previous occasions, then that is surely no bad thing. I can't imagine a better living film composer at conveying this kind of domestic shenanigans. His recent score for Little Children is a prime example of the composer at his best - and while Revolutionary Road isn't quite in that class, it remains a fine musical portrait. The striking main theme is perfect, painting a picture of everyday beauty but containing an unmistakably lonely undercurrent; the style is by now extremely familiar, but perhaps it's that very sense of comfortable familiarity which makes it so perfect.
Newman occasionally mixes string harmonies with a never-ending piano figure which sounds almost like the sound of a tap gently - but endlessly - dripping water into the sink. Elsewhere, it goes without saying that Newman involves his usual troupe of instrumental collaborators. The Hollywood orchestra consists solely of strings, but we also hear far whistles, ambient freezes, wire piano, dark matter, E minor drift, a backwards vibraphone and a simplified violin. I'd love to be in on the recording sessions to see what the dark matter looks like. Newman is able to create such a hypnotic atmosphere with this ensemble - and it's a joy to hear. There's nothing much new here - but it's hard not to celebrate this music. It's one of 2008's most accomplished scores, certainly.