News Archive... AKA The Old Blog

Monday, May 15, 2006

Caps: 'Jarhead', 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith'

Music Composed and Conducted by Thomas Newman
Decca Records, B000598302, 25 Tracks, 61'21"
Rating: ***

Thomas Newman has done some of his best work for Sam Mendes, but Jarhead was always going to be a tricky project to handle musically. It's a film about a war whose ground soldiers really didn't get to do anything, and Mendes refuses to make any commentary either for or against the military that would obstruct the film's attempt at an honest portrayal. This does not leave the composer much to work with, so we should give Newman credit that the score is as entertaining and intelligently crafted as it is. An eclectic slew of rock, percussive, Middle Eastern, and whatever other elements Newman sees fit to toss in, the score creates convincing musical approximation of the frustration and pent-up aggression of a group of a soldiers stuck in a war that they aren't allowed to fight. Newman keeps the momentum consistent, and despite the lack of an orchestra or any presence in the emotional foreground, the music is consistently engaging throughout. Make no mistake, this is decidedly the Newman of The Player and American Beauty – if you were hoping for his bittersweet orchestral sweep, you will most definitely be disappointed. Still, while it's hardly one of his best, it's the best possible score a film like this could hope for. - Paul Cote

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Music Composed by John Powell
Lakeshore Records, LKS33828, 19 Tracks, 43'54"
Rating: ****

John Powell has established himself as the front-runner in scoring hip contemporary thrillers in the past several years, seemingly growing better with each successive project. To date, Mr. and Mrs. Smith is the best of the bunch and by far Powell's best solo project to date. In fact, this may be damning with faint praise, but this may be the best score I've heard from the genre, period. Best described as techno-tango-flamenco action music, this is a score with style, wit, and energy that never lets up. The Spanish dance element would be a gimmick in lesser hands, but Powell turns it into a source of genuine inspiration and manages to score the entire film from this angle. He uses an orchestra, but merges it seamlessly into the Spanish and electronic ensemble, creating an organic sound that never sounds trapped in any particular world. Miraculously, the album never runs out of steam, as virtually all of the scores in this genre eventually do – Powell keeps the momentum running throughout the score's entirety. There few scores that you could impress your friends with (even when those scores are for would-be-hip thrillers), but Mr. and Mrs. Smith may be one of the first. I doubt you'll hear it in the club circuit, but I wouldn't be surprised if pieces from the score emerge as staples of the contemporary dance stage in years to come. - Paul Cote