Home > Reviews > BROKEDOWN PALACE – David Newman


brokedownpalaceOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Over the years, the “innocent person in a brutal foreign prison” subject has resulted in some excellent movies, including the Oscar-winning Midnight Express, the Australian TV series Bangkok Hilton and last year’s Return to Paradise. Following purposely in their footsteps is Brokedown Palace, directed by Jonathan Kaplan and starring Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale as two friends travelling in Thailand who, after meeting a charismatic young Australian (Daniel Lapaine) and agreeing to accompany him to Hong Kong, find themselves in the unwitting possession of a substantial amount of heroin. Arrested by the Thai authorities and abandoned by their new friend, the women are sentenced to spend 33 years in a brutal prison chillingly nicknamed “The Brokedown Palace”, where they eventually realize that their only hope of freedom is through an expatriate American lawyer played by Bill Pullman.

Throughout his career, David Newman has somehow found himself in the shadow of his more successful younger brother Thomas, who is constantly given the more high profile and high quality assignments, while David is left to score silly little comedies and action flicks. It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that David’s score for Brokedown Palace should so closely resemble the work of his brother, especially the orientally-influenced, electronically-enhanced Red Corner, and it is this very familiarity that makes the score just a little disappointing. Although it is undoubtedly a good and effective piece of music, and although is certainly enjoyable to listen to, it somehow remains anonymous and never once makes a truly original statement which would earmark it as a “David Newman Score”.

In fact, Brokedown Palace could be best described as a meeting between Red Corner and Mark Mancina’s Return To Paradise with bits of Danny Elfman’s A Simple Plan thrown in for good measure, especially in the way it uses a wide array of oriental instruments and abstract rhythmic techniques to flavor the regular orchestral complement. There is no real recurring theme to speak of – something else which slightly detracts from the score – but each cue is highly stylized and intricately structured, often combining exotic eastern sounds with contemporary western synthesizers.

Highlights include ‘Alice Meets Nick’, ‘Hong Kong’ and ‘Arrival in Thailand’, a series of short cues which effectively capture the hustle and bustle of life in the far east, and the more standard orchestral cues (such as the lovely ‘Your Friend Is Pardoned’, ‘The Bracelet’, ‘Pool Boy’ and the emotional sounding ‘Making Plans To Escape’) which feature some beautiful writing for piano, guitar and strings. Others, such as the purposeful ‘The Arrest’, ‘Alice Is Beaten’, ‘The Escape’, ‘Darlene’s Ear’ and the conclusive ‘No Pardon’ could almost be categorized as sub-industrial grunge, with robust and fast electronic rhythm tracks accompanying the music. The majority of the rest of the music is effective but unfortunately quite nondescript, typified only by its internal rhythm and by the occasional sound of a rogue erhu, a wailing pan flute or a gong crash.

As is often the case these days, the regular commercial soundtrack to Brokedown Palace features none of Newman’s score, so it is a rare treat to discover that Ford A. Thaxton and the guys at the Super Tracks Music Group have produced this promotional release on behalf of David, limited numbers of which will be available to collectors. In conclusion, I have to say that it is encouraging to see David Newman finally being assigned to a worthy film, and being given the opportunity to write some serious film music, and that when taken at face value Brokedown Palace is an interesting and fairly enjoyable score. I just wish that Newman had not gone down the same road as every other composer when asked to tackle this kind of film.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • The Arrest (4:05)
  • Your Friend Is Pardoned (2:52)
  • I Didn’t Do It (1:21)
  • Alice Is Beaten (0:50)
  • The Escape (4:04)
  • Alice’s Story (1:03)
  • The Girls Go To Prison (2:18)
  • Darlene’s Ear (1:56)
  • The Bracelet (1:21)
  • Beth Ann’s Fantasy Man (0:57)
  • Friends in High Places (0:56)
  • Pool Boy (1:09)
  • In Their Cell (1:12)
  • Hank Meets The Girls (0:53)
  • Alice Meets Nick (0:47)
  • Hong Kong (0:27)
  • Arrival In Thailand (1:03)
  • Night In Prison (1:00)
  • Thirty-Three Years (0:44)
  • Alice’s Conversation (1:50)
  • Pool Boy Testifies (2:06)
  • Alice and Darlene Argue (1:48)
  • Making Plans To Escape (1:28)
  • Blackmailing Jagrite (1:30)
  • You Didn’t Do It (1:22)
  • No Pardon (1:10)

Running Time: 39 minutes 34 seconds

Supertracks DNCD-01 (1999)

Music composed and conducted by David Newman. Orchestrations by David Newman, Xandy Janko and Andrew von Oeyen. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander. Edited by Tom Villano. Mastered by James Nelson. Album produced by David Newman and Ford A. Thaxton.

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