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Sensitive, emotional accompaniment to difficult film makes for difficult listening
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Universal Studios; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
It must have been one of the most uniquely difficult film scoring assignments in years: how to score a film like this, about an horrific and harrowing event which is still so recent that those who were personally effected will still be grieving? Of course, the same could be said of every aspect of United 93, the first major film directly about the 9/11 attacks. Paul Greengrass is as good as any director I can think of for a project like this: he made his name with difficult and sometimes grueling documentaries before turning to cinematic film. His usual choice of composer, John Powell, at first thought it would be best to leave the film without music, but ultimately the decision was taken that a score was required, and he set about the difficult task of writing music which would help the film but not sentimentalise anything, or turn anything into what might be seen as Hollywood melodrama.
Ultimately, Powell scored the film in what was probably the only possible way: relatively subtle music which doesn't call attention to itself, but supports the film in a respectful and dignified way. There is a small orchestra involved, mostly strings and brass, and almost-constant synthesised support. "Prayers" which opens also employs another device, with wordless vocals provided by the composer's young son Oliver, an effective technique which fortunately avoids sounding like the cliché it may have done. The bulk of what follows sees long sustained string notes with synthesised percussion as backing, moving along very effectively. The lengthy "Phone Calls" takes the style to its pinnacle, with Powell somehow managing to wring some desperate emotion from the simplest of musical ideas.
things do swell up into something more substantial; the brass of "2nd
Plane Crash" rises to a desperate, strained stupour, which again never
actually sounds clichéd or disrespectful. And the two
closing tracks, "The End" and "Dedication", which see the emotion
ratcheted up higher and higher, and Powell manages to do that while
still remaining within the bounds of decency. "The End" is the
score's most impressive piece, the only one which is really prominent
and attention-seeking, but it's appropriately-impassioned, never
over-the-top; and "Dedication" sees the return of the vocals before an
almost elegiac finale. I doubt that anyone will be sitting
listening to United 93 very
often, but it's as good a score for the film as anyone could have
written. It's one of the most accomplished scores of this
excellent film composer's career, but just maybe one that didn't need
to be released on CD.