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.
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.