SOUNDTRACK REVIEW:
Atonement
Dario Marianelli



Type: Score
Label: Decca

IN A NUTSHELL:
Dario Marianelli knows how to craft his score around the story of a film. From the selection of sounds to the language of the themes, he always comes up with something elegant and affecting, adding subtle yet powerful dimensions to what’s happening on the screen. Atonement may be his most epic score to date, and is so well woven into the film that it easily deserves this Oscar nomination.


What makes for a truly great film score? That’s the question members of the Academy are required to ask themselves when trying to decide what scores to nominate, and ultimately, award with that bright shiny golden statuette. Obviously the first criteria is to determine whether or not the score was composed by John Williams. If it’s not, the process of analysis gets a little bit more involved.

I actually have no clue what’s going on inside the minds of those voting members of the Academy, but one thing I hope they take into serious consideration is how well the music fits with the movie.

It’s not enough that music composed for a film be beautiful or dramatic or nice to listen to in the car on your drive to work. It needs to blend in well with movie, become a part of the storytelling. In the some cases it can even become a character itself. Anyone can take music, put it to a movie, and call it a soundtrack. The two don’t even really have to go together all that well. Witness the bizarre phenomenon that is The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of The Moon”. But, when music and movie merge in a way that heightens the experience, you find the stuff of great Oscar winners.

Dario Marianelli knows how to craft his score around the story of a film. From the selection of sounds to the language of the themes, he always comes up with something elegant and affecting, adding subtle yet powerful dimensions to what’s happening on the screen. Atonement may be his most epic score to date, and is so well woven into the film that it easily deserves this Oscar nomination.

From the very first notes of the movie it’s easy to recognize that the score is going to be unique. Briny’s theme (“Briony”) opens with the simply clacking on an old-fahsioned typewriter. It’s a harsh, attention grabbing instrument. Impossible to miss, you either love it or hate it, but you can’t deny that it’s a bold choice and one that fits the story brilliantly. From there, like Briony’s life, the music unfolds from a single piano note into an ever-broadening bitter-sweet melody.

Recurring throughout the film, Marianelli changes Briony’s theme around little bits at a time, adding subtle variations to fit the storytelling. The typewriter solo (yeah, it sounds hokey to say it, but that’s exactly what it is) gets its big moment in “Come Back” when Marianelli twists it for all its worth as a percussion instrument.

Marianelli outdoes himself in the film’s more poignant scenes. The first thing to pop out during Robbie’s haunting exploration of the beach at Dunkirk is the fact that it plays out in a single cut. All that flawlessly choreographed chaos is tragic to watch, but the moment is exponentially heightened by the underscoring (“Elegy for Dunkirk”). The simple strings open softly, led by an evocative cello solo. Giving way for a moment to the chorale of “Lord and Father of Mankind” the strings broaden in a sweeping crescendo that sent chills down my spine during the movie and again everytime I hear the score on its own.

That same mastery with strings is revealed throughout the score, as in the first few measures of “The Half Killed” and “Rescue Me”. But, as the scenes require, Marianelli adds in other elements, like commanding brass themes punctuated by the favored instrument of the score, the piano. Famed performance pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet brings the piano solos to life with the same passion Marianelli has placed into the music.

The score, like the movie itself, is a both challenging and heartbreaking. The movie is too much to watch over and over again, but the score is the sort of thing I could leave in my MP3 player all year and never get tired of hearing it.

REVIEWER’S FAVORITE TRACK: “Elegy for Dunkirk” - it’s a tragic piece, and as it soars it nearly brings me to tears every time.

1. Briony 1:46
2. Robbie's Note 3:07
3. Two Figures by a Fountain 1:17
4. Cee, You and Tea 2:27
5. With My Own Eyes 4:41
6. Farewell 3:32
7. Love Letters 3:12
8. The Half Killed 2:11
9. Rescue Me 3:21
10. Elegy for Dunkirk 4:16
11. Come Back 4:28
12. Denouement 2:29
13. The Cottage on the Beach 3:25
14. Atonement 5:24
15. Debussy: Clair de Lune 4:52
Total Album Time: 50:28

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