Just as director Todd Field says in his sleeve notes, Thomas
Newman has become one of the most sought after composers working in film today.
His distinctive style, his emotional depth and his understanding of the power
of music within film have elevated him to the very forefront of his field. And
even if his work on this Oscar nominated drama is not his very best it still
has enough inherent quality to make it worthwhile.
After a very brief piano piece on ‘Houses’, a characteristically
quirky theme is encountered on ‘The Cannery (Main Title)’, all grating strings
and jagged rhythm. Unusually, apart from a reprise on ‘In the Bedroom (End Title)’,
this motif does not appear again (at least on the CD) and there is very little
thematic work, the bulk of the music made up of short understated cues like
‘VFW’ and ‘Blocks’. As far as real drama goes, ‘Last Call’ is the most sustained
example (recalled also on ‘North on 73’) and these tracks are somewhat reminiscent
of earlier work such as The Green Mile. Without question, the most distinctive
element of the soundtrack are the three pieces performed by the Newark Balkan
Chorus, ‘Zeni Me, Mamo’, ‘Oj Savice’ and ‘Dobro Dosle’ and these vocal cues
add a folksy, archaic feel that gives the score an extra dimension.
If I said that this is typical Thomas Newman that’s not meant
to be a criticism. As with all the very best composers, he has developed his
own unique ‘sound’. This particular work though lacks the more expansive nature
of his best material. While not big on melody or action, it’s more of a mood
piece and is one of those scores that you just know will work very well in the
film itself. In terms of a listening experience it really depends on your own
sensibilities. The music has an accumulative effect rather than individual tracks
standing out, but overall I can’t help feeling that this is a soundtrack that
may be too subtle to make much of an impact.