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THE CONTENDER – Larry Groupé

October 13, 2000 Leave a comment Go to comments

thecontenderOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Established orchestrators often find it difficult to disassociate themselves and carve out a solo composing career for themselves, out of the shadow of the (usually) more famous composer they have assisted for many years. Over the years, Jerry Goldsmith, Alexander Courage and the late Arthur Morton have been perfect examples. In recent years, artists such as Nicholas Dodd, Tim Simonec, Thomas Pasatieri and Ken Kugler have remained firmly behind their employers, while others such as Mark McKenzie, Hummie Mann and most noticeably Don Davis have emerged as composing talents in their own right. Larry Groupé looks likely to join this latter group very shortly; finally appearing from out of composer/director John Ottman’s backroom and taking center stage on a project worthy of his talents.

Having written music for a series of badly-received (I Woke Up Early The Day I Died) and badly-funded (Deterrence) movies, The Contender has finally provided Groupé with a platform of a high enough profile with which to showcase his talents. Writer/director Rod Lurie’s movie is a political drama which, like the similarly-themed Deterrence, focuses on the pressures and prejudices of an American president during a constitutional crisis. President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) has to choose a new Vice-President, following the death of the incumbent. Following a lengthy process, President Evans narrows his choices down to two candidates: up-and-coming Democratic star Jack Hathaway (William Petersen), the popular governor of Virginia, and Ohio Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen), whom the President favors – not for political reasons, but because he will go down in history as the first man to appoint a woman to the No.2 spot as a result. However, slimy Congressman Sheldon Runyon (Gary Oldman), the Republican chairman of the confirmation hearings, is a Hathaway supporter, and will stop at nothing to ensure that Hanson does not ascend to office – even if it means dredging up 20-year old sex scandals, and resorting to tactics which sully the name of the Oval Office.

As far as I am aware, this is the first time Larry Groupé has actually had enough money to buy an orchestra to perform his film score and, having heard several of his earlier works, all of which were confined to synthesizers because of the budgets, it is obvious that the finances invested in his talents have been worth it. Sounding like a cross between Marc Shaiman’s The American President and John Williams’s Nixon, Groupé’s score is typical “underscore” in that it makes no real, bold statements. Instead, it provides excellent accompaniment to a serious, dialogue-driven film which ponders weighty issues and tackles a difficult subject matter with intelligence and honesty.

Essentially, Groupé’s score is monothematic; noble, patriotic, and full of integrity, but never as flashy as the themes in either of the aforementioned works by Shaiman and Williams. The theme is highlighted by a number of superb instrumental renditions in various cues: solo piano in ‘The Statesman’, double basses in ‘Nobody’s Business’, and is allowed to rise during a couple of sparkling fully orchestral recapitulations in ‘I Stand For’, the lengthy ‘The Real Story’, and the marvelous ‘The Speech’, easily the best track on the album. Female vocals permeate ‘Prophecy Fulfilled’, lending a brief operatic air to the music; cool dissonance similar to that heard in Deterrence makes a welcome return during ‘Meet Mr. Makerowitz’, and the whole thing concludes with a traditionally noble coda in ‘The Chapel of Democracy’.

As The Contender only runs for a touch over 25 minutes, the second half of Citadel’s album is given over to Groupé’s earlier score for Deterrence, Rod Lurie’s 1998 movie starring Kevin Pollak as another American president forced to avert a world-wide nuclear missile crisis while stranded in a Colorado roadside diner. As I mentioned above, the score is fully synthesized, but does not suffer unduly because of it. Previously available as a promotional CD distributed by the composer himself (albeit with a re-shuffled cue order), this is the first time Groupé’s music for Deterrence has been commercially available. Click here to read my full review of that album.

Listener’s unfamiliar with the work of Larry Groupé, or who only know of him through his association with John Ottman, will probably be pleasantly surprised at the quality of the music on this album. Having been acquainted with Larry, and having heard several of his early scores over the past few years, I am sincerely delighted that he finally seems to be hitting the big-time, and long may it continue.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

THE CONTENDER

  • The Statesman (1:30)
  • I Stand For (1:12)
  • Timmy Meets the President (1:16)
  • Prophecy Fulfilled (0:40)
  • Marching Orders (1:51)
  • The Real Story (5:25)
  • Meet Mr. Makerowitz (1:22)
  • The Speech (2:50)
  • Nobody’s Business (1:15)
  • The Deposition (0:56)
  • The Portrait Room (2:13)
  • Willy’s Story (1:57)
  • End Title: The Chapel of Democracy (3:14)

DETERRENCE

  • Main Title (3:28)
  • Deterrence (3:00)
  • The Garden Of Eden (2:07)
  • Omari Phone Call (2:42)
  • First Strike (1:35)
  • Lay Down the King (2:46)
  • Confrontation (1:11)
  • Addressing The Nation (1:52)
  • Decision 1 (1:20)
  • I Hate War (4:05)
  • Omari’s Scheme (1:53)
  • We Attack (0:45)
  • Mr. Prime Minister (1:11)
  • Omari’s Threat (1:23)
  • The Shooting (1:36)
  • Omari’s Last Stand (1:56)
  • Pilots of Fate (1:10)
  • Phone with Bean (1:28)
  • Enter Mr. President (1:09)
  • Gambling vs. Certainty (1:10)
  • Report In (2:43)
  • Target Chosen (1:04)
  • The Dark March (3:01)

Running Time: 72 minutes 26 seconds

Citadel STC-77132 (2000)

THE CONTENDER: Music composed and conducted by Larry Groupé. Orchestrations by Larry Groupé, Frank Macchia and Bruce Donnelly. Recorded and mixed by Armin Steiner. Produced by Larry Groupé.

DETERRENCE: Music composed, performed, mixed and produced by Larry Groupé. Album produced by Larry Groupé, Tom Null and Alain Silver.

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