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Wonderful old-fashioned suspense score sees Sakamoto oozing style and class

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Album cover copyright (c) 1998 Paramount Pictures; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall

Sometimes you watch a movie and you can forget the silly plot and slightly ropey acting and just feast your eyes on the staggering visual triumph of a director who can simply make the screen come to life, sizzling with fire and staggering in some respects.  One such film is Brian de Palma's Snake Eyes, an absolute treat for any fans of the most underrated director around.  For 85 of its 90-minute running time it's completely gripping, mainly because of de Palma's skills, before a silly ending (changed after the studio pulled out of financing the lavish spectacle the director had originally planned) brings everything crashing to a completely unsatisfying, lurching conclusion.  Most famous is the opening shot, which is presented as a continuous, 15-minute take (though does use some swish pans to conceal a few cuts) which follows Nicolas Cage through the corridors around a large boxing arena, full of people, and eventually out into it.  Trickery aside, it's majestic filmmaking.

The labirynthine plot is too clever for its own good - de Palma trying to mimic his icon Hitchcock by filling it with twists and turns - but frankly, that doesn't matter.  His films have almost all been treats for film score lovers too - he likes his music big and up-front.  The choice of Ryuichi Sakamoto wouldn't have set too many hearts aflutter when it was announced - but he shies away from the pop style you might have expected to deliver a score which is every bit what the music from a Brian de Palma film almost always sounds like - big, bold, assertive, daring, and quite brilliant.

The Hitchcock angle is certainly to be found in the music - the album starts with the wonderful main theme, a swirling string piece which tries to hypnotise, and in a vaguely Vertigo-like way, succeeds.  Brilliant stuff.  "Assassination" is a violent, brassy, thunderously aggressive piece of action / suspense music - deliciously old-fashioned, and working surprisingly well in the hip setting of the film.  The theme continues in the lengthy "The Hunt", which beings with teasing, enticing suspense - those jabbing strings again - before the action kicks in, in fine style once again.  And "style" is the operative word, with the heavy artificial reverb added really working very well.

After the dynamic orchestral music which opens the album, it's quite jarring to hear the rasping sax and dissonant electronic stings if "Tyler and Serena", but once the shock runs out, it's easy to admire the clever, twisted romance Sakamoto is trying to suggest - especially when the more traditional strings return to close out the piece.  "The Storm" (for the silly ending) is the most Herrmann-like of all the action music - the main theme is reorchestrated for horns, then joined by snarling trombones for some tremendous action.  Best of all is probably the long version of the main theme which closes out the score - I think it must have been written just for the album (I don't remember it in the film, at any rate) and it's a beauty.  An impassioned, moving piece.

The album is rounded out by two songs - one of which, "Sin City" by Meredith Brooks, I actually thought was quite good - and it really is recommended for those who like old-fashioned noir scores (including that for de Palma's most recent film, The Black Dahlia) and, more generally, any Herrmannesque music.  I don't think Sakamoto has done anything else much like this one - more's the pity.  It's a great, intelligent, well-composed score.


  1. Snake Eyes (short version) (2:51)
  2. Assassination (2:47)
  3. The Hunt (6:09)
  4. Julia's Story #1 (1:23)
  5. Tyler and Serena (4:38)
  6. Kevin Cleans Up (2:13)
  7. You Know Him (2:19)
  8. Blood on the Medals (2:02)
  9. Crawling to Julia (3:24)
  10. The Storm (4:30)
  11. Snake Eyes (7:40)
  12. Sin City Meredith Brooks (4:16)
  13. The Freaky Things Lakiesha Berri (3:36)