The Clearing is a kidnap thriller written and directed by Pieter Jan Brugge, who worked previously as a producer for The Pelican Brief and The Insider. The score cd has cue titles which contain serious plot-spoilers, so anyone who hasn't watched the movie yet is strongly cautioned.
The score comes from Craig Armstrong, and follows The Magdalene Sisters (unreleased), The Quiet American and Love Actually. While the music shares the typical Armstrong orchestration and musical identity (the piano is the dominant instrument), it shares none of the qualities of the above-mentioned works.
The album opens with the magnificent main theme, first presented in a striking violin performance with electronic ambient accompaniment and light strings. The main theme consists of minor 3rd intervals and arpeggios reminiscent of Philip Glass, while the overall sound recalls the violin cues and solos from James Newton Howard's The Village. The only problem with this excellent piece is it sets a high standard the following cues fail to match.
Several other appearances of the main theme are made in another cue, 'The Clearing Again', this time arranged solo piano, with the arpeggios sounding even more beautiful and seductive. Through this piece one presumes Craig Armstrong composed this main theme on the piano at the very beginning.
'Arnold Gets Dressed' presents a second theme which dominates much of the score, appearing in numerous settings accompanied by dark synthesized sounds or ambient electronic beats and percussion that send the listener straight to Klaus Badelt's The Recruit. By way of contrast 'Wayne Please Don't Be Late' offers the second theme for piano, with the oboe and high strings.
'Do you know Louise Miller?' is short, but a definite highlight, with the piano, on a more atmospheric basis this time, performing the second theme again which oboe, orchestra and electronics that evoke Harry Gregson Williams' Spy Game. 'I Love My Wife' offers the very same theme again with some dark electronics, and 'I Love Him and She Admires Him' offers the final, interesting and involving rendition of the second theme by piano, with electronic beats and sounds. It is an overall intense cue that manages to draw the listener's attention.
'The Journey Into The Forest' showcases a problem with this album, the short duration of the tracks that offers practically no time or space for interesting musical development. The cue features some beautiful and emotional string lines, only to be interrupted by odd mood-building electronics, and when a nice piano line begins it only lasts a couple of seconds before the track ends abruptly.
The general tense mood changes pleasantly over the last two pieces. 'I Have Everything I Need' is a lovely piece for piano and orchestra that really stands out for the rest of the score. The finale is a full orchestral version of the main theme which perfectly closes the score, offering a really magnificent piece with a concluding violin performance that reminds of what Craig Armstrong is really capable of.
In the end, The Clearing leaves a general bitter taste along with a feeling of stress and slight frustration. It is a score dominated by very short pieces that don't get the time and ground to evolve and offer something attractive. While having the wonderful main theme performed several times, especially the three intriguing violin performances, and a compelling second theme, most cues work only as underscore, with a sole purpose of building tension, agony and a dark mood that offer nothing at all to the listener. Those underscore tracks certainly give the impression that this score must work very well in the movie, but they don't succeed as a separate listening experience at almost an hour's duration.
Craig Armstrong has previously offered scores of high quality and with a level of ingenuity that 'The Clearing' doesn't reveal or match at all.