February 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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The Quiet American  
Music composed by Craig Armstrong
  Academy Award Promo  
Running Time: 47:56

quiet american

I had a peculiar experience watching this movie because of its score. I found both very moving and enjoyable, but the music kept drawing attention to itself. There are several levels at which film music can Ďpop you out of a filmí (as I call it). More often than not, when music does this itís a completely negative thing; poor choices on the part of the composer. The problem I had here was that emotionally, tonally and in every supportive way the music fit beautifully. But stylistically it didnít. Again, more often than not this too is a completely negative thing. Somehow, as is brought home by the thoroughly enjoyable listening experience of the album, the stylistic anachronisms donít matter.

This is 1950s Vietnam, and as you might expect, Armstrong has utilised Asian percussion, pipes and a solo vocalist to depict that backdrop. For the quieter moments in the love triangle between Michael Caine, Do Thi Hai Yen and Brendan Fraser are delicately scored. This is the connecting thread in amongst everything else the film is saying and doing. It is in its political and dramatic aspects that the music is crafted as something youíd expect to hear in a contemporary setting. Drum loops and beats sit atop all else whenever a dramatic interlude erupts. There are 2 particularly obvious moments of this. "Death in the Square" is a familiar scene to anyone whoís seen The Killing Fields, and similarly itís wrung for all its emotionally affecting worth. The music cue begins softly to accentuate the quiet that follows an explosion, but then builds with echoing metallic rhythms as Caine flounders amongst the devastation. In fact, there are several of these sample rhythms that re-appear almost as motivic devices in their own way, and link the horror of one moment with the 2nd standout scene when Fraserís mysterious death is explained in the finale ("The Ritual of Revenge").

On a side note, the song being touted for Oscar consideration - "Nothing In This World (Song For Phoung)" performed by Hong Nhung Ė has a chorus that bears striking resemblance to "This Love" from his The Space Between Us albumÖ

Iím put on the spot for awarding a star rating to this therefore. For its effectiveness Iíd award 4. For its appropriate use, Iíd say 3. As an album Iíd say 4. But then after all that, this is a Promo disc few will get their hands on. That therefore means the review is more about the music in the film than this album. In which case the mark below of 3.5 is a reflection of my peculiar viewing experience!

Paul Tonks

***Ĺ 3.5

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