The Night Window

One of the most visually arresting sequences of 1917 is accompanied by what may well be one of the most impressive pieces of film music we will hear all this year. Here’s a link to the music on YouTube- even away from the film, Thomas Newman’s music is quite haunting, and I don’t recall a piece of music from him quite like it before. The rest of the score is fairly routine for modern for film music these days, its just that ambient, semi-sound effects style that has been in vogue for some time now, but this piece certainly recalls the good old days when film music drew attention to itself and wasn’t afraid to be, well, music.

Bridge of Spies (2015)


2016.63: Bridge of Spies (Amazon VOD)

Bridge of Spies is pretty spectacular, the best Spielberg film I have seen in quite awhile. Even someone familiar with the true-life story the film is based on will find the film enthralling. It’s chiefly thanks to a first-rate script (co-written by the Coen brothers no less, with Matt Charman) but what most impressed me was the craftsmanship evident onscreen. This is a surprisingly beautiful film. There is something remarkable in how the film recreates the period in which it is set- it looks absolutely ravishing, from the art direction to the cinematography to the flawless effects work. Best of all, Spielberg operates under quiet restraint- he isn’t too showy, emotions aren’t forced, camera moves aren’t so indulgent- stuff that hampered Lincoln for instance. A part of this is that it is also a rare Spielberg film -just the third, I think- that doesn’t feature a John Williams score (Williams being busy with a certain Star Wars gig).  The Thomas Newman score is nothing extraordinary but it does give the film a different ‘feel’ to a normal Spielberg picture and is understated enough to not draw attention (indeed I might be wrong but I was only first aware of the music some thirty minutes in).

The two leads are great. Tom Hanks of course is no surprise playing unlikely Superpower go-between James Donovan.He’s eased into a career of playing these noble, thoughtful and morally incorruptible characters for years and makes it look deceptively easy. It’s occurred to me that he would make a fantastic Bond villain- you know, casting him quite against type, set him up as a figure who you wouldn’t dream of being the orchestrator of global doom and then -Bam- I’m pleased to meet you Mr Bond. It gives me chills just thinking about a typically charming Hanks going all evil and chewing up the Bond scenery- maybe one day.

Anybody familiar with Mark Rylance (particularly in Wolf Hall) will perhaps be not at all surprised by how good he is as Russian spy Rudolf Abel, a soft-spoken, almost terrifyingly calm man who at the time the film is set becomes the most hated man in America (another possible Bond villain someday?). Abel is always a mystery and we don’t really get to know him but somehow an unlikely friendship and bond quickly forms between Donovan and Abel and it’s never short of convincing.  Its in the performances of the leads and the finely tuned script with some lovely dialogue and a sense of disarming humour (the influence of the Coen brothers, no doubt) even in the face of the Cold War nightmare threatening to unravel before us.

bridge2My only slight reservation is how the film displays the passing of time. From what I have read afterwards, Abel was arrested in 1957, Powers shot down in 1960, and the exchange happened in 1962, and yet I can’t really say that span of time was evident in the film. Maybe I was so swept away by the gorgeous photography etc that it passed me by- I certainly don’t recall any onscreen text ticking off the years, but maybe I was enjoying myself too much.

It seems an odd omission for a film that at least feels quite authentic and realistic, in that events seem to play out in rapid succession when in reality half a decade passes by (Donovans children, for instance, don’t seem to age from the start of the film to its end). In anycase, I don’t think anyone comes to a Spielberg film for cast-iron accuracy and a sense of impartial ‘truth.’ As it is, Bridge of Spies is a great film regardless of accuracy; a thrilling tale splendidly told.

The Shawshank Redemption- Expanded OST

shawshank-coverJust released -and weirdly (Twilight Zone-time again) announced around the time I recently rewatched the film – is an expanded, two-disc edition of Thomas Newman’s fine score for The Shawshank Redemption. Back when the film first came out, I recall the score sounded very fresh and unique, with that Thomas Newman ‘sound’ that afterwards defined his music in other films like American Beauty, The Green Mile and Road to Perdition, so much so that it is clear that Shawshank is the definitive Newman score.

It feels hand-crafted and personal, a deeply emotive score. It is dark though. Listening to this expanded edition, that as usual for these expanded releases, is sequenced in chronological order, it is a grim reminder of the darkness of the film itself, littered with moments of hope and light but overall quite relentlessly dark, until, like the film, the music reaches a valedictory finale. I hadn’t realised how bleak it would sound in this complete form. I listened to the score on the way to work last week and found its darkness had infected my own mood for remainder of the whole day (alas, I didn’t get to the grand finale before I got to work). I guess that might be an argument for the shorter, resequenced kind of soundtrack presentation albums usually tend to have (although I believe Shawshanks original album had a chronological sequence too, its brevity might have helped).  Its certainly no fault of the music itself, its rather just the natural progression as the score matches the ebb and flow of the film. In this expanded edition, there’s just so much more of it and that hopeful finale just a longer time coming.

At any rate, it’s a great score and this complete presentation with a second disc of alternates/album versions and source cues is the definitive edition of the definitive Newman score. The booklet is as thorough and informative as these La La Land records releases are, making the whole package a great deal for fans of the film and its score. La La Land of course really are on a roll with some of their releases of late (the complete Braveheart and Dances With Wolves prior to this). It all rather feels like the last hurrah of the CD format/physical product era but it’s great while it lasts.