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A SIMPLE PLAN
Evocative, atmospheric music shows a far-from-simple plan from Elfman
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1998 Silva Screen Records; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Before turning his hand to Spiderman, Sam Raimi was a filmmaker just on the edge of the mainstream, certainly not making films which would pull in huge audiences but not quite off in the offbeat, cult corner either. His best-reviewed film was 1998's A Simple Plan, an engaging drama starring Billy Bob Thornton, Bill Paxton and Bridget Fonda in which some friends find a load of money, come up with the "simple plan" to keep it, before everything goes horribly wrong. Raimi's choice of composer was Danny Elfman (they had previously worked together on Darkman), an excellent pick for a film like this.
If there is a very superficial resemblance between this film and Fargo, then the same could probably be said of its music. While Elfman does not venture into the melodic territory that Carter Burwell did in that score, the folksy element to its kookiness is certainly similar; another score to which it bears a passing resemblance is Ennio Morricone's U-Turn, composed a year earlier. Elfman's music here is pretty complex, perhaps not immediately rewarding but there is a surprising depth to it which is revealed on repeated listens.
The composer's choice of instrumentation is clever - there's virtually no brass, but lots of flutes, violins, guitar and a prepared piano. It creates a chilling atmosphere, but one from which it is perfectly possible to generate warmth when so desired; and one whose off-the-beaten-track nature is perfect for the film. The "main theme" if it can be called that is essentially just a short motif, very similar to one in Morricone's U-Turn, which is generally played by a flute and flitters in and out of the music throughout. The score is about half an hour long and is indexed into eleven tracks, but it truly needs to be played from beginning to end to be experienced properly - there are no easy "compilation tracks" here, it's essentially one long story being told musically.
"Betrayal, Part I" sees a sudden explosion with the music taking its harshest, most dramatic turn; but the score flows so organically into the sequence and out of it again, it certainly doesn't feel out of place. The warmest track, ironically, is "Death", with the main theme given its lengthiest workout. A Simple Plan is one of Elfman's more challenging scores, but ultimately it is very rewarding. He went through a brief phase of writing more experimental music like this, which sadly seems to be over; while at the time it seemed that everyone was clamouring for a return to more traditionally melodic music, Elfman is one of the few film composers with the skill and confidence to pull this sort of thing off so it would be nice to hear a little more of this side of him.