June 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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Running Scared  
Music composed and produced by Mark Isham
Orchestrated by Ken Kugler and Cindy O’Connor
Performed by Unnamed Ensemble, with guitar solos by Peter Maunu and electronics by Mark Isham
  Available on Varese Sarabande (VSD-6720)
Running Time: 70:54
Amazon UK   Amazon US

See also:

  • Crash
  • The Cooler
  • Don’t Say a Word
  • Not long ago Commotion reissued the score Mark Isham wrote for Wayne Kramer’s feature debut as writer-director, The Cooler. The reissue confirmed what was a wonderful jazz-based score for an unusually effective film about a man trying to break out of a lifestyle of (literally) bad luck. Not one to play the same card twice, Wayne Kramer’s recently released second film Running Scared is very different territory, starring Paul Walker as a man caught at the center of a turf war between the Russian and Italian mafias. Extreme violence, sex and nonlinear storytelling ensue over the film’s taut eighteen-hour timeframe.

    Isham has written many thriller scores – Kiss the Girls, Don’t Say a Word, and Twisted all come to mind. Among film score collectors, these are for the most part his least popular works. They tend to be heavily synthetic scores with a hint of orchestral colouring that serve the suspense needs of the film masterfully, but don’t stand up so well as a standalone experience, neither blessed with the composer’s lilting melodies nor particularly interesting in construction. And while there are exceptions to that rule, this album from Varese Sarabande largely fits that mould.

    The highlight is a ‘Main Title’ where a guitar and keyboard present a melody that evokes the ‘what-goes-around-comes-around’ nature of a life in organized crime. The dramatic theme is used sparingly, arising in its most dire form over low-strings in ‘Nobody Knows Nobody / Priceless / Drive to Brighton Beach’ (presumably for the drive – it feels like cinematic travel music). In its final appearance, it makes a powerful ‘End Credits’ theme, and is surely a worthy entry on that Mark Isham compilation of themes that is well overdue.

    A moving secondary guitar theme for the protagonist’s girlfriend is presented in the suggestively-titled ‘Love on the washing machine’, returning in the gentle coda ‘I was always the real Joey’ (which could have been a cue title for most of the cues from Howard Shore’s History of Violence). There are other interesting cues: the major-key electric guitar theme of ‘A Family United’; the soft lullaby rhythm of ‘Dez and Edele’s’; the sampled Middle Eastern-sounding vocals of ‘True Grit’ (recalling the composer’s superior synthesized score for Crash); and the electric guitar and synthesized woodwind textures of ‘The Duke’. (Two John Wayne references in consecutive tracks?)

    For the most part though, it’s action, suspense and the weight of consequences with little respite from ‘Get Down!’ onwards. While there are some strong cues (‘Get Down!’ is one of the best of the action setpieces) this music is as hard to describe as it is to sustain interest in it for fifty minutes. It’s not poorly written music by any means, it’s just very hard to access some of the material apart from the film, particularly in the longer cues. (‘Iced!’ runs an incredible eleven minutes, very little of it connecting!)

    If only it were shorter. More than any other release this month, I feel the producers of this album have damaged its chances for success by releasing nearly a full CD of score where thirty-five minutes would have been much more effective. Fans of this composer’s approach to previous thrillers will find plenty to like here. The more general case: people who buy this one will wonder, as I did, why this score was given such a generous release, when Isham’s more engaging scores for Spartan and Fly Away Home remain unreleased at any length. As a shorter album, with the less compelling material pruned back, this could have stood on its own merits a lot better than it does now. It’s not without merits, but it requires patience.

    Michael McLennan

    Rating: 2.5

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