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AN UNFINISHED LIFE
Unfailingly pleasant, if unoriginal, pastoral music
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2005 Miramax Film Corp; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
A kind of modern-day western about a ranch-hand who lives with (and cares for) his badly-injured friend, whose life is thrown upside down when his daughter-in-law turns up unexpectedly with his granddaughter, who he never knew he had. Despite featuring Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Lopez and being directed by Lasse Hallstrom, the film sat on the shelf for over a year before being released by Miramax, and its box office was the only thing more disastrous than the reviews it got. (I know that to criticise him is one of the few things in life more likely to cause offence than paedophilia, but is it just me or is Morgan Freeman's wise-old-man stuff becoming a bit tiresome now?)
As with most films that the studio knows are going to be horribly unsuccessful, An Unfinished Life had a score rejected and another one written at the last minute. In this case, it was Christopher Young who was the unfortunate composer, and newcomer Deborah Lurie was brought in at the last minute. I don't know much about Lurie, apart from what I can garner from a Google search, which is that she has previously orchestrated for Mark Snow and John Ottman, but never scored a film nearly so high-profile as this one before.
Without wanting to be too harsh, a "blind tasting" of this score would lead one to believe it had been written by Thomas Newman on a slightly bad day at the office. The music is undoubtedly lovely - anchored around solos for fiddle, guitar, piano and flute, there is a distinctly Irish brogue, along with a vaguely western feel, maybe a cross between The Horse Whisperer and Cinderella Man with perhaps a bit of the more pastoral music from How to Make an American Quilt thrown in for good measure. (Ironically, this score's orchestrator and conductor is another member of the Newman clan, Joey Newman.)
The problem is that, however lovely the music is, it just doesn't quite have that special something that Thomas Newman brings to the table - there's a very slightly bland feel, the X-factor isn't there. People who like the soft-focus hues of, say, Rachel Portman might actually like this very much - it is completely inoffensive, consistently-pleasant stuff. The album plays very well, too - many of the cues are rather short, but they flow together very naturally, and it's a very nice, relaxing way to spend half an hour. It will be interesting indeed to hear more from Lurie in the future because there is nothing at all wrong with any of An Unfinished Life, it's just not quite substantial enough to be entirely satisfying as an album - and that substance is something which she may be able to provide when she has a little more time to work on a score!