June 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster: Len Mullenger

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Music composed, conducted and produced by Alexandre Desplat
Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony
Orchestrations by the composer with Conrad Pope, Eddie Karam, Erik Lundborg, Nan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schindler and Clifford Tasner
  Available on Varese Sarabande (VSD-6715)
Running Time: 52:16
Amazon UK   Amazon US

See also:

  • Hostage
  • Syriana
  • Following Hostage and Syriana, French composer Alexandre Desplat delivers his third Hollywood thriller score in a year. The film is yet another tired Harrison Ford vehicle in which he plays a devoted family man who is forced to protect his kin against terrorists, criminals or some other routine threat to the American way of life. Is there any other major star that regularly chooses such dull material?

    Regardless of the film, Desplat delivers a superior action score, though it is not as engaging a work as the superlative Hostage. As with the film, the music is more generic in sound, something that would appear not unrelated to the fact that six orchestrators worked alongside the composer on the score. Desplat orchestrated Hostage himself, and the difference is in the amount of unique character, of personality, which shines through. The need for six orchestrators suggests a frantic last minute rush to complete the music in time for the film’s release and the result is a good solid genre score that, like the film it accompanies, lacks the freshness and originality that would really make it stand out.

    It is well known that Harrison Ford takes a hands-on approach to his films, noting in a recent interview in Empire that he is involved in almost every aspect of the production of his releases. With that in mind one can’t help but wonder if, looking back to his glory days, Ford asked his composer for something with a hint of Williams. For Desplat’s work here, though shot through with supporting modern electronics in perhaps the manner of Jerry Goldsmith, clearly echoes the John Williams sound, from the furious rhythms of the title track opener through to the sombre romantic melody which ends the cue; between these extremes lies the heart of the score. From horn melodies which recall the dark romanticism of Williams Dracula to brooding suspense in tracks such as ‘Surveillance’ and ‘Breaking In’, the listener can hear shadows of such scores as Jaws, Black Sunday, The Fury and even Jurassic Park. There is also a lyrical ‘Family Theme’ for piano, strings and brass which likewise might put one in mind of Williams. (ED – It is interesting to note that Conrad Pope, a regular Williams collaborator, is among the orchestrators.)

    There are two lengthy set-pieces which have considerable power. ‘Escape from the Bank’ is a ten minute sequence of slow burning suspense which ebbs and flows repeatedly before finally rising to a pulse-pounding finale in the last three minutes. Then ‘The Fight’ is, not surprisingly, seven minutes of skilfully constructed musical mayhem. ‘Exchanging the Files’ delivers more finely-crafted suspense-action, while ‘Looking For Help’ adds an air of desperation, increasing the emotional pull with variations on the family theme. The closing ‘Together Again’ leaves the listener in no doubt this is one genre picture not about to upset a successful box-office formula. The triumphant ending is as unashamedly feel good as that of any Lucas or Spielberg blockbuster of yore.

    Strong but utterly generic, Firewall is superior to 95% of new film music currently being released, and only disappoints because we know that given better material, a freer hand, or just more time, Alexandre Desplat can do better still. Nevertheless, recommended for fans of the composer and devotees of elegant modern action-thriller writing.

    Gary Dalkin

    Rating: 4

    Michael McLennan adds:-

    There’s no doubting that the conservative team of Harrison Ford and Nicholas Hytner behind Firewall delivered Alexandre Desplat a much different film to score than the similarly-plotted Hostage. Fresh from their success with Niu de guepes, Florent Siri’s took an interesting premise and made the ultimate comic book film – far better than any genuine comic book adaptation in many a year. Showcasing a stylised Gallic taste for violence and exaggerating both the attractive and lurid in American suburbia, Hostage brought forth a highly lyrical score. No cue summed up that score better than ‘A Child’s Spirit’, a highly romantic idea at the centre of all the blood and the intrigue. An expressive counterpoint to the excess of plotting and gore surrounding the families at the centre of the story.

    And this is the chief difference between the scores to Siri’s and Hytner’s films. While a production helmed by a Frenchman will allow the music to play an active role in the film’s strange emotional palette, the Harrison Ford vehicle mostly reinforces stereotypes about what music can do in this sort of film. It can churn in perpetual motion below fairly uninvolving action scenes involving computers and mobile phones, adding tension, but not distracting (‘Surveillance’, ‘Escape from the Bank’). It can reinforce relief and the affirming love of a family when the action is over (‘Together Again’ and ‘Family Theme’), but never during it. Requisite stingers and music for character beats, etc. The problem with movies like this is that they expect to excite people without the least bit of stylistic invention, and in terms of relationship to the image, Desplat’s hands would have been pretty tied here to this classic approach.

    Fortunately Alexandre Desplat is the composer though. And his work here is everything it needs to be for the sake of the film, but no less rich and detailed for it. It may emphasize electronic rhythms and loops over the zany acoustic flourishes of Hostage, but listen to the orchestrations here: the fluttering brass of ‘Looking for Help’, the elegant of counterpoint of ‘Firewall’ at its most frenetic (this is actually from the middle of the film, not the opening), or the range of colours and dynamics in ‘Exchanging the Files’. It’s an album that has the best of the later Jerry Goldsmith combined with many of John Williams’s’ stylistic hallmarks, and there’s little doubt it’s well ahead of what the film’s original composer Alan Silvestri normally writes for generic action films.

    Still, there’s possibly something to be said for Gary’s point above about multiple orchestrators having an effect on the distinction of the writing – Desplat remarked in interview with www.soundtrack.net that the electronic program was co-written with programmer Marc Mann rather than wholly his own work as would normally have been the case.

    While by the end of the CD I was craving a less restrained lyricism than what comes in ‘Together Again’ to sweep me off my feet, this is certainly the most entertaining of the action scores I’ve heard so far this year. Good writing stands out, and Desplat is the best writer of music to have made headway in a range of film genres in a while. (Is there anyone around at the moment writing ten minute suspense cues as thrilling and well structured as ‘Escape from the Bank’, or underscoring phone calls with superb writing like ‘Exchanging the Files’?’) Hopefully this is the most generic score we ever hear from him.

    Michael McLennan


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