There is no question that Thomas Newman has an inherent understanding of
the art of composing for film. And even if it might be argued that this
particular score is not wholly satisfying purely as a listening experience,
I think few would dispute that it is undeniably fine film music.
With a grand total of thirty-seven tracks, there's certainly much to consider
here and after a brief snatch of the traditional Negro song 'Old Alabama',
'Monstrous Big' sets the tone for the rest of the CD with its slightly Bluesy
feel, coupled with jangling guitars and rich strings. This is followed by
'The Two Dead Girls', a very atmospheric piece that builds forcefully toward
a dramatic conclusion and then the mood shifts with 'The Mouse on the Mile',
a much lighter track featuring a playful marimba line. Next we hear what
I feel is Newman's most significant and memorable creation in 'Foolishment,
a very beautiful, lyrical theme that grabs the attention, played here with
a dark, ominous undercurrent. It is also later heard in 'Condemned Man' and
given a halting reprise that seems to signify both sadness and loss in 'Danger
of Hell'. Finally it appears in its most powerful incarnation in 'Coffey
on the Mile' as a kind of lament. This is certainly my favourite element
of the entire score, although I can't helping wishing it had been developed
even further. Greedy I know!
'Billy be Frigged' introduces another major characteristic of this work with
its use of country guitar and Hillbilly banjo (courtesy of soloist George
Doering) that effortlessly conjures a sense of the American Deep South and
this is reinstated in various other tracks like 'Limp Noodle' and 'Wild Bill'.
'Cigar Box' features a lead flute in a reflective cue that adds variety and
colour and is recalled later on 'Punishment' before being given an expanded
string led interpretation on the 'The Green Mile'.
The quirky 'Circus Mouse' is almost like a Thomas Newman signature track
with its echoes of some of his earlier work, but this is quickly swept aside
by the wild, doom-laden strings, drums and brass of 'The Bad Death of Eduard
Delacroix', the closest thing here you'll find to an action-cue.
I was amused to note what sounded to me like some minimalist variation on
Elmer Bernstein's The Great Escape theme in 'Two Run Throughs' and
there are some nice moments in 'Red Over Green', but this can said of several
other tracks, particularly 'Boogeyman' with its changes in mood from powerful
opening chords to low-key piano and then back to passionate strings. If I
heard just a whisper of Herrmann here, that comes as no surprise as so much
modern work bears signs of his influence and this is something I for one
am very happy to detect. Even so, the last few bars put me in mind of another
one of the greats, a certain John Barry. It is interesting to wonder if these
references are deliberate or more likely, just echoes of other styles and
The haunting 'Night Journey' features more flute work over piano and strings
and there are a number of very brief pieces such as 'Boy's Eye', 'Done Tom
Turkey', 'Briar Ridge' and 'Now Long Gone' that give the impression of a
broad, musical mosaic. And although I never found myself bored, as one might
imagine with so many pieces some are less noteworthy than others.
Four songs are featured to capture the musical climate of the thirties era
in which the story is set; Fred Astaire's 'Cheek to Cheek', 'I Can't Give
You Anything but Love' by Billy Holiday, 'Did You Ever See a Dream Walking'
performed by Gene Austin (also used to great effect in Frank LaLoggia's superb
Lady in White) and Guy Lombardo's version of 'Charmaine'.
Overall, this is an impressive score that further establishes Thomas Newman
as a leading composer for the new Millennium. Alongside the many other gifted
artists we are fortunate enough to have working in this field today, from
the legendary masters like Williams and Goldsmith to young maestros such
as Danny Elfman, he can be sure of a place among their illustrious ranks.