Mark Isham

In the Valley of Elah [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]

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The fall of 2007 was a particularly grim season for films. It wasn't that there weren't great films out there; it was that so many of them were unrelentingly harsh and unforgiving. And Tommy Lee Jones starred in two of the harshest: the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men and Paul Haggis' In the Valley of Elah. Both films are revisionist noir westerns, and in both Jones plays a law man dismayed and confounded by the rising tide of evil around him. For the Coen brothers, Carter Burwell wrote a score of such immense restraint that it is at once enormously effective yet noticeable. For Haggis, Isham wrote a score entirely too insistent, too obvious, and too noticeable. Mixing Arvo Pärt's dour strings with Glassian ostinatos and driving electronic beats, Isham's music may go too far for some in heightening the action on screen in cues like "The Morgue," "Body Parts," and "We Killed A Dog," undercutting the effectiveness of the drama by drawing too much attention to the score. But for others, the relentless intensity and overwhelmingly bleak tone of Isham's score may be just right, and it's insistence on making the emotional implications of the drama musically manifest may be exactly what the film needs to put its point across. The unnamed session musicians play with polish and finesse for conductor James Shearman and the Abbey Road Studio digital sound is clear, bright, and deep.

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