It is always a difficult proposition to review a
soundtrack music album before having the opportunity to see the film itself.
It has to become a matter of conjecture as to how well the composer might be
fulfilling their obligations to the plot, or enhancing the movie's overall atmosphere,
or aiding psychological insight into character. Luckily, with certain established
composers the reviewer need have few qualms about the music "fitting the
bill". This is certainly so of Thomas Newman, who from "The Player"
to "The Shawshank Redemption" to "American Beauty" has always
demonstrated a sure dramatic sense. Those who are familiar with his scores
are aware that Newman seldom needs to come to the rescue with a hundred and
one strings – and the impression given by his music is invariably that of the
modestly instrumental rather than any grandly symphonic gestures. And Newman
has virtually cornered the market in tingeing his scores with gamelan hues,
singly bestowing a new and unusual musical soundscape on American movies. Then
there are those halting figures which so identify his scoring, usually piano-led,
and a wealth of delicate orchestral textures. Thomas Newman's scores are not
for those craving "crash; bang, wallop, what a film score!" but more
a delicate delight for anyone who gravitates toward the simply engaging or the
"White Oleander" is obviously a tale of
many facets, following over a full decade the trials and tribulations of a young
girl whose mother is committed to prison for murdering the lover who betrayed
her. Thomas Newman's approach is predictably yet seductively miniature in
scope, sparkling with instrumental detail, and particularly alive with sensuous
percussive effects. The conjured aura is ethereal, if not transcendental.
In a musical sense, this is not so much of a soundtrack shout, but more a mystical
movie murmur - and in many ways, all the better for that. And as I have hinted
at above, it is often a necessity to view a film before properly being able
to evaluate its music, but here, as has been demonstrated with past Newman scores,
the music can easily be appreciated as a stimulating listening experience all
it's own. So whilst this is not for lovers of bombastic and demonstrative
scores, Thomas Newman aficionados can approach this with their usual enthusiasm.