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Larry GROUPÉ - The Contender and deterrence: Film Music CD Reviews- January 2001

January 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /January/


The Contender & deterrence  
  The Contender conducted by the composer, deterrence performed, mixed and produced by the composer
  Citadel STC 77132   [Total: 72:45; The Contender: 26:42; deterrence: 46:03]
  Amazon UK  Amazon US

Here is an unusual but very sensible arrangement: two new, related scores on one CD. The Contender and deterrence are the first two feature films by director Rod Lurie, both are political dramas revolving around a different, fictional American president, and both are scored by Larry Groupé. The Contender is a brand new acclaimed Dreamworks political drama starring Joan Allen as the first female US president, supported by Gary Oldman, Jeff Bridges and Christian Slater. deterrence (1999) is a low budget thriller in which a president isolated by a snow storm must resolve a terrorist crisis by phone.

There are 36 tracks on the album, the first 13 of which comprise the short (26:42) score of The Contender. This is a generally under-stated autumnal orchestral work, evoking a similar mood to Christopher Young's The Hurricane (1999) and the more melancholy aspects of John William's Nixon (1995). In his somewhat overstated booklet notes Rod Lurie makes great claims for the distinctiveness of each and every track, claims which are not born out by the unity of the music. Much of the writing is string dominated, or else sets plaintive piano against strings, the often sombre mood illuminated by the brief beauty of the unaccredited wordless soprano on 'Prophecy Fulfilled'. The tracks are short, two longer pieces 'The Real Story' and 'The Speech' offering touches of the all-American bombast for which John Williams is regularly castigated: this is a Dreamworks film, and Dreamworks is Steven Spielberg's studio. 'End Title: Chapel of Democracy' is dignified and reserved, suggesting that over all this will prove a distinguished and serious film. The sound is harsh in places and suffers from occasional distortion. Nevertheless, this is a polished and emotionally refined score, it will find a welcome with those who appreciate traditional Americana.

Where The Contender is orchestral, the 46:03 minutes of deterrence is electronic, performed, mixed and produced by the composer. The sounds used are mainly orchestral and choral samples, making this score sound rather like a demo, as if the budget had allowed these tracks would have been remade with full orchestra and choir. As it is, this is functional, effective, sometimes stirringly portentous suspense thriller music which would be much more enjoyable as pure music had it been re-recorded with 'real' instruments. There is one other serious drawback: an undeniable and very marked similarity between the main title theme of deterrence and the theme by Ron Goodwin for Where Eagles Dare (1968). The similarities, in military snare rhythm bonded to rising brass combining into a mood of building tension and expectation are so striking that I am astonished no one noticed during the production process and proposed a rewrite. I would not suggest any composer would be so unprincipled as to steal another composer's melody, or that, if they did, they would be so stupid as to steal one of the most famous war movie themes ever written. The problem is that once the parallel is noticed, and it is hard not to notice, deterrence, becomes immediately and unavoidably second-rate. The sound is suitably powerful and confrontational, particularly in the percussion department.

Gary S. Dalkin

The Contender:***
deterrence: **

Editor's Note: I think perhaps that Gary is being over tactful about Mr Lurie's lurid notes (?) - the like of which I have never encountered before. But, coincidentally, another CD with the same music but different packaging arrived and was reviewed by Mark Hockley.

Scores from Political Thriller-The Contender/Deterrence  

A brace of scores by Emmy awarding winning composer Larry Groupé from films set in the arena of American politics.

The Contender (2000) opens with a restrained piano theme in 'The Statesman', a quietly affective piece that sets an intriguing tone, although this is somewhat undermined by the bigger, bolder theatrics of 'I Stand For' which at times borders on the emotionally obvious and manipulative. Fortunately though it never quite strays into the realm of cliché. The same can also be said for 'Marching Orders', which employs jingoistic brass to convey political gravity, but again just manages to avoid becoming overly pretentious. The central theme, first heard in 'I Stand For' is reintroduced in various subtle guises in pieces like 'The Speech' and 'Nobody's Business' and although they continue to flirt with a kind of patriotic Americana, there is enough inherent quality to retain interest and patience.

Many other cues are rather low-key, albeit effectively constructed such as 'Timmy Meets the President', 'The Portrait Room' and 'The Real Story'. More interesting though are 'Prophecy Fulfilled' with a female voice making an unexpected appearance and the brooding intelligence of 'Meet Mr. Makerowitz'.

At times slightly reminiscent of James Horner (and I'm in the pro Horner camp myself!) or even John Williams, this soundtrack is very much in the classic modern tradition of film music. I suppose if it could be criticised, then slight over-familiarity might be one area of concern, but it all works perfectly well so in this case I'm prepared to be tolerant. Groupé is obviously an astute composer who displays a strong understanding of emotion and drama and I just hope that in tandem with the film itself the music does not become too overbearing.

Also of genuine interest is the score for Deterrence (1999) with a fascinating 'Main Title' that has a vivid militaristic flavour, reminding me of the kind of sixties war film theme that someone like Ron Goodwin might have composed. Even so, as it develops the music takes on a strangely elegant quality that had me sitting up and really paying attention. However, the title track itself, 'Deterrence', is a very different affair with a choir and soprano voice filtering through ominous brass and strings and this trend continues with 'The Garden of Eden', a contemplative, subtle cue with a kind of death knell thrown in for good measure! Predictably echoes and variations of the main theme can be found in a whole range of tracks such as 'Omari Phone Call', 'Lay Down the King', 'Enter Mr. President' and 'The Dark March', but it's a strong enough piece to warrant that decision.

Many cues (there are thirty-six in all) are solid rather than memorable ('First Strike', 'Addressing the Nation', 'Phone with Bean'), but they have an accumulative effect, building suspense and tension, while something like the more emotional, reflective 'I Hate War' adds weight to the proceedings. Overall, a sound example of sustained suspense and intrigue with a sombre overall tone, punctuated by some ballsy, brass-led aggressive war score.

Based on these two works I think Larry Croupé can confidently be signalled as a worthwhile talent, certainly someone to keep an ear out for in the future. Whether he will rise to the very top ranks remains to be seen, but I for one will be watching and listening with interest.

Mark Hockley


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