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DUPLICITY – James Newton Howard

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Duplicity is a double-crossing spy caper written and directed by Tony Gilroy, who previously worked on films such as Michael Clayton and the Bourne series. Clive Owen and Julia Roberts star as Ray Koval and Claire Stenwick, ex-lovers who specialize in industrial espionage, who team up for one last job: to swindle their respective bosses out of millions of dollars. The film, which also stars Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti, has an original score by James Newton Howard, who received an Oscar nomination the last time he teamed up with Gilroy on Michael Clayton in 2007.

Howard’s score for Duplicity is an exercise in funk; it’s a departure from his usual lush orchestral sound, instead making use of a bank of synthesizers and samplers, a jazz combo with plucked basses and blaring horns, and a snazzy, upbeat tempo that is incredibly infectious. In a way, it’s a cross between Lalo Schifrin and David Holmes, revisiting the cool 60s and 70s retro sound that seems to be making a nostalgic comeback in modern film music. Cues such as “War”, “Following Claire”, “The Frame-Up”, the seductive “Miami Hotel” are tremendously stylish, often employing Latin beats and prominent solo instruments alongside the electronic rhythms and jazz stylings to excellent effect. Trumpets, acoustic and electric guitars, groovy pianos, accordions, mandolins, even kettle drums have their moment in the sun, reminding us that before he was a respected orchestral composer Howard was one of the most in-demand pop arrangers in the business.

Some of the slightly more serious action-style cues, like “Security Meeting”, “Tully’s Letter”, “The Ghost”, “Safe House” and the wonderfully rambunctious “The Formula”, have a darker tone and a more urgent feel, but still retain their rhythmic panache and overall lightness of touch. The subject of the film may be espionage, but the tone of the film is that of a cheerful caper. Later in the album there are some truly lovely romantic interludes built around a solo acoustic guitar or a piano, notably in “Rome Hotel”, “San Diego Airport”, “Airport Love” and the lithe “A Cream or a Lotion”, which are all quite gorgeous.

Although Duplicity is a world away from the sophisticated orchestral writing we are used to hearing from Howard in recent years, it has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes it a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience, especially for those whose tastes encompass jazz and world music as much as the classical style.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • War (4:06)
  • Following Claire (2:00)
  • Security Meeting (2:49)
  • Split to Rome (2:30)
  • Tully’s Letter (1:52)
  • The Ghost (2:48)
  • Rome Hotel (1:38)
  • Back to the Unit (1:44)
  • Split to London (0:47)
  • The Frame Up (2:27)
  • Split to Miami (0:49)
  • Miami Hotel (1:02)
  • Share My Fire (1:27)
  • Bench Mark (0:36)
  • Safe House (2:19)
  • Split to Cleveland (0:48)
  • The Formula (5:50)
  • San Diego Airport (1:24)
  • A Cream or a Lotion? (1:40)
  • Airport Love (1:55)
  • The Real Setup (3:12)
  • Played (1:38)
  • Duplicitá a Due (2:05)
  • Being Bad (performed by Shana Halligan and Kiran Shahani of Bitter:Sweet) (3:00)

Running Time: 50 minutes 26 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6955 (2009)

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