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ANTWONE FISHER – Mychael Danna

December 20, 2002 Leave a comment Go to comments

antwonefisherOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

I’m almost certain I’ve written this sentence before, but Mychael Danna continues to surprise and delight me with each new score he pens. The 45-year-old Canadian composer first challenged my perceptions of him with his brilliant, breathtaking Western epic Ride With The Devil, and has continued to impress me with such wide and varied works as Girl Interrupted, Green Dragon, Monsoon Wedding and Hearts in Atlantis. His 37th feature score, Antwone Fisher re-asserts Danna’s standing as one of the most talented and consistently enjoyable composers working today.

Antwone Fisher marks the directorial debut of the respected, Oscar-winning director Denzel Washington, and stars young actor Derek Luke as the titular character. The film, based on a true story, tells of the life of the eponymous Fisher who, after suffering years of horrendous abuse while in foster care as a child, gains respect and authority as a seaman of the US Navy. However, the psychological damage inflicted upon him makes prone to outbursts of uncontrollable rage – something which brings him into contact with anger management psychiatrist Jerome Davenport (Washington). During their many counseling sessions, Davenport gradually breaks through Fisher’s personal barriers and encourages to overcome his personal demons… and seek out his natural mother.

For years, Mychael Danna was that unusual, Eastern-inspired, plinky-plonky Gamelan guy who wrote offbeat scores like Exotica and Kama Sutra and, for the first thirty seconds of the first track in Antwone Fisher, you think you’re in for the same kind of stuff again. The music of the Evergreen Contemporary Gamelan Club stands in tonal opposition to most western sounds. But then a warm, inviting western orchestra enters the proceedings and the score takes on a whole different dimension altogether – only ‘Our Sessions Have Ended’ features the unique Indian instruments in any great depth thereafter. Due to the nature of the film, Danna had to deftly tread that fine line between appropriate emotional accentuation and the overbearing saccharine manipulation than often mars rites-of-passage biopics. As such, the score has an overall tone of restraint and subtlety, but a closer listen reveals depth and musical talent at work, as well as a great deal of beauty and grace.

Tracks such as the delicately-scored ‘Grasshoppers’ and ‘Who Will Cry’ remind me of his pastoral work on scores such as Hearts in Atlantis, while others have an obvious militaristic tone, with ‘Ship Departs’ especially notably for its brass-led nobility and hint of James Horner’s Titanic. At the other end of the scale are cues like ‘Fight’ and ‘Basement Beating’, eerie and moody cues full of dark, metallic scrapings and unnerving rumblings emanating from the lowest recesses of the string section. Piano solos, performed by Pauletta Washington and Richard Ruttenberg, are also important thematic anchors: first appearing in ‘I Don’t Know What To Do’, and gradually turning into a slightly melancholy romantic theme which is recapitulated in ‘Antwone and Nadine’ and ‘First Kiss’. Even Mychael’s brother Jeff and long-time collaborator Tim Clement crop up, playing guitar in the travelogue cue ‘Going to Cleveland’ and the finale ‘Rocked to the Core’.

The final four cues, however, are the film’s coup-de-grace, and see Danna indulging in a rare moment of all-out, emotion. The best of these, ‘Finding Mae Mae’ and ‘Mom & New Family’, are simply gorgeous, with Nicholas Dodd’s sumptuous orchestral tones washing over the listener. After years of hearing Danna suppress all of these musical sentiments in his more restrained scores, it is all the more satisfying to hear him shamelessly, yet gently, tugging at the heartstrings here.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Antwone’s Dream/Fight (3:02)
  • Lock Yourself Up (1:40)
  • Basement Beating (1:57)
  • Grasshoppers (2:00)
  • I Don’t Know What To Do (1:40)
  • Ship Departs (1:23)
  • Antwone Remembers Nadine (1:27)
  • Antwone and Nadine (2:02)
  • First Kiss (1:53)
  • Who Will Cry (2:08)
  • Our Sessions Have Ended (1:47)
  • Going to Cleveland (2:26)
  • Finding Mae Mae (3:28)
  • Daddy’s Baby Sister (1:55)
  • Mom & New Family (4:31)
  • Rocked to the Core (2:12)

Running Time: 35 minutes 51 seconds

Superb/Trauma Records TRM-74071-2 (2002)

Music composed by Mychael Danna. Conducted and orchestrated by Nicholas Dodd. Featured musical soloists Pauletta Washington, Richard Ruttenberg, Jeff Danna, Tim Clement, Paul Intson and the Evergreen Contemporary Gamelan Club. Recorded and mixed by Brad Haehnel. Edited by Adam Smalley. Album produced by Mychael Danna.

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