Home > Reviews > PROOF OF LIFE – Danny Elfman

PROOF OF LIFE – Danny Elfman

December 8, 2000 Leave a comment Go to comments

proofoflifeOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Proof of Life: The Movie has been overtaken in the world’s press by Proof of Life: The On-Set Romance to such an extent that director Taylor Hackford’s espionage thriller has almost become an unimportant by-product of the Meg and Russell Show. Meg divorced Dennis Quaid to be with Crowe, who then left Meg to be with his cattle in Australia… it’s certainly one of Tinseltown’s more unusual love triangles. But Movie Music UK is not concerned with tabloid tittle-tattle, instead preferring to judge things on their artistic merits. Unfortunately, as far as the music is concerned at least, Proof of Life doesn’t have many. The film Russell Crowe stars as Terry Thorne, a private investigator and hostage negotiation specialist who is hired by Alice Bowman (Meg Ryan) to find her engineer husband Peter (David Morse), who has been kidnapped by guerrillas in South America. Terry and Alice head deeper into danger, locking horns with Ecuadorian freedom fighters and corrupt government officials as they try to obtain some kind of reassurance that Peter is alive, and worth searching for. However, as the two of them endure life-threatening situation after life-threatening situation, a tentative romantic relationship develops, jeopardizing both the mission and Terry’s professional integrity.

Danny Elfman’s original score was nominated for a Golden Satellite Award this year, a second-string set of gongs given out by the International Press Academy, and which just goes to prove that most of the people who vote for these things have tin ears (Cliff Martinez’s Traffic was also nominated). To be quite honest, this score annoyed me. When asked to verbally describe it, I generally say “30 minutes of synth loops”, but this is probably an unfair assessment: for the most part it’s loud and dissonant, but with a certain Elfman style – which is to say that its nothing less than inventive, and certainly builds up fair old a head of steam during its half-hour duration. Unfortunately, it also seems rather chaotic and jumbled at times, bombarding the listener barrages of sound that are disorientating and downright frustrating.

In certain places, Proof of Life reminds me a little of Hans Zimmer’s Beyond Rangoon, while in other places it is reminiscent of James Horner’s Where The River Runs Black. In terms of Elfman’s own filmography, probably its closest relation is the urban ghetto music he wrote for Dead Presidents in 1994 – which I didn’t care much for either – by way of the stylistic touches of Instinct. Having said that, Proof of Life is still very much an identifiable Elfman score, and followers of his music will instantly be able to pick out certain phrases and instrumental colors from earlier scores, although admirers of classic works such as Batman or Edward Scissorhands are likely to be a little bemused by it all.

In the action tracks, especially ‘Main Title’, ‘Bullet in the Head’, ‘Escape’ and ‘The Rescue’, Elfman’s approach is tough and modernistic. Low brass clusters, harsh violin stingers, heavy percussion effects, and a series of whizzing electronic effects that dart across your speakers are the order of the day. I have no doubt that, when heard in context, they adequately convey the kinetic energy and danger in which the protagonists find themselves. On CD, however, they come across for the most part as mere noise, with a few killer rhythm patterns and momentary bursts of excellence and coherency occasionally emerging from the mix.

‘The Hostage Game’ and ‘Plane to Catch’ are two of the score’s better tracks, the former working a series of Spanish guitars into the omnipresent bed of synths and percussion; the latter gradually developing a hesitantly attractive, gently mysterious ethnic flutes element. By way of a counterbalance, ‘Alice Breaks Down’, ‘The Miscarriage’ and the conclusive part of ‘The Finale’ are quieter, but also very dark, with the excellent solo piano element of the latter cue echoing the score Elfman wrote for Hackford’s last film, Dolores Claiborne.

Ultimately, Proof of Life is a score which, in the opinion of this reviewer, will have limited appeal. The hoopla surrounding the film’s production has overshadowed everything else about the project, giving it more notoriety than any kind of positive reputation. Similarly, although the music is fine when heard within the film, its album is unusually redundant. It’s by no means vintage Elfman, and although there are occasional flashes of brilliance still to be found buried within deep down in the mix, only the die-hards need indulge.

Rating: **

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (5:54)
  • The Hostage Game (3:04)
  • Plane to Catch (1:18)
  • Alice Breaks Down (2:12)
  • Bullet In the Head (2:23)
  • The Miscarriage (2:12)
  • Escape (3:20)
  • The Rescue (3:37)
  • The Finale (6:00)

Running Time: 30 minutes 08 seconds

Varése Sarabande VSD-6208 (2000)

Music composed by Danny Elfman. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by  Steve Bartek, Edgardo Simone, Mark McKenzie, David Slonaker and Marc Mann. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Edited by Ellen Segal. Mastered by Pat Sullivan. Album produced by Danny Elfman and Ellen Segal.

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