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WHITE OLEANDER – Thomas Newman

October 11, 2002 Leave a comment Go to comments

whiteoleanderOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

I’m getting rather frustrated with Thomas Newman. How many times is he going to rehash the American Beauty sound before it becomes even more tired than it already is? In many ways, Thomas Newman is becoming the James Horner of the 2000s; a supremely talented composer whose work in the full orchestral arena is as good as anything being written today (The Shawshank Redemption, Little Women, Meet Joe Black). But, and at the risk of sounding cruel, he seems to be getting lazy, and is quite prepared to rehash his old works, whether it is at his director’s behest, or because of his own current obsession with sound design over melody. To paraphrase the Old Testament of the bible, American Beauty beget Erin Brockovich, beget Pay It Forward, beget In The Bedroom, and now beget White Oleander.

White Oleander is the new film from acclaimed British director Peter Kosminsky based on the novel by Janet Fitch, and stars young Alison Lohman as Astrid Magnussen, 12-year old girl whose life is turned upside-down when her free-spirited mother Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) murders her lover Barry (Billy Connolly) with the poison from a while oleander flower after he ruins her life, and is sentenced to life in prison. Dodging from foster home to foster home, Astrid quickly learns life’s harshest lessons, from sex to drugs to love and religion, while all the time receiving support and guidance from her incarcerated guardian. The supporting cast includes Renee Zellweger and Robin Wright Penn.

To give him his due, Newman has provided White Oleander with a score which is highly appropriate, and which convincingly conveys the sense of quiet, barely-hidden desperation suffered by these three women. In addition to this, he has bookended his score with two soft piano themes, backed by a synthesizer pedal, which are by most standards very nice indeed. It’s just that the other seventeen tracks are, by and large, totally uninteresting, almost to the point of boredom. There is little to stir the senses, other than a few brief moments of instrumental innovation – Mike Fisher’s atmospheric, vaguely American Indian glass tones of ‘Not My Type’, ‘Broken People’ and ‘Claire’; Steve Kujala’s ethnic flutes in ‘Dürer Rabbit’ and ‘Fire Season’; the twinkly piano chords in ‘Plain Denim Dress’; the eerie, Maurice Jarre style electronics of ‘Rena’, the appearance of the tabla in ‘Bullet’; the slightly more urgent percussion of ‘Uncle Ray’ and ‘Shadow Puppet’; and so on. We even get a proper string section in ‘Rollercoaster’. However, listing unusual instruments to pad out a review is only fun for a while.

The overall feeling I get from listening to White Oleander is, by and large, one of nothingness. It’s like listening to the air, to wind, or to the sounds of nature – and while these things are all lovely, and relaxing in their proper environment, I don’t especially want to listen to them on CD. Aside from the attractive opening and ending, and a few sparks of life in the intervening period, sadly there is very little to recommend otherwise. It’s a score which has very little innovation, very little life, and very little appeal.

Rating: **

Track Listing:

  • Oleander Theme (4:21)
  • Not My Type (2:29)
  • Starr (1:04)
  • Dürer Rabbit (1:24)
  • Meteor Shower (1:38)
  • Plain Denim Dress (2:25)
  • Broken People (1:53)
  • Fire Season (1:25)
  • Claire (1:15)
  • Rollercoaster (2:17)
  • Rena (1:02)
  • Milk Flowers (1:23)
  • La Puta del Diablo (1:26)
  • Bullet (0:49)
  • DMSO (2:20)
  • Uncle Ray (0:50)
  • Every Insult (1:11)
  • Shadow Puppet (1:59)
  • White Oleander (3:19)

Running Time: 34 minutes 30 seconds

Varése Sarabande VSD-6417 (2002)

Music composed and conducted by Thomas Newman. Orchestrations by Thomas Pasatieri. Featured musical soloists Rick Cox, Chas Smith, Steve Kujala, George Doering, Michael Fisher, George Budd, Steve Tavaglione, Nico Abondolo and Thomas Newman. Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki. Edited by Bill Bernstein. Mastered by Patricia Sullivan-Fourstar. Album produced by Thomas Newman and Bill Bernstein.

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