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THE CLEARING – Craig Armstrong

theclearingOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

I’ve been a big admirer of the work of Scottish composer Craig Armstrong throughout his relatively short career. From his early work on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, through great scores such as Plunkett & Macleane, The Bone Collector, The Quiet American, Moulin Rouge and Love Actually, Armstrong has continually displayed a mastery of the orchestra, superb use of electronics, and an aptitude for powerful and memorable themes. It comes as something of a shock, therefore, to discover that The Clearing is a quite horribly boring score, easily one of the worst for a mainstream release in 2004.

The film is a tense and taut hostage drama, directed by former producer Pieter Jan Brugge, and starring Robert Redford as Wayne Hayes, a successful businessman whose life is turned upside down when he is kidnapped by Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe), a former employee. Tied up and taken to a secluded hideaway in the forest, Wayne can only watch on as Arnold tries to extract a $10 million ransom from Wayne’s wife Eileen (Helen Mirren). However, things do not go to plan, and with the FBI closing in on the increasingly desperate Arnold, Wayne’s situation becomes more dangerous with each passing moment.

It’s actually very difficult to describe Armstrong’s score in musical terms because, for all intents and purposes, the score is little more than an organized collection of ambient sound effects. The music rustles, crawls and creeps, moans and groans, presenting textural moods and sounds, but very little in the way of conventional melody, theme, or even chords… it just exists as a kind of moody background noise, hardly ever commenting on the atmosphere or story development of the scene at hand. And it goes on, and on, and on, for almost an hour. Even cues such as “Wayne Makes A Run For It” and “Wayne’s Murder”, which you anticipate might have a little more thrill or urgency, are just further variations on the same tedious theme.

Armstrong’s main melody, performed on solo violin by Clio Gould in the first track, by Armstrong himself on solo piano in the sixth, and in an “orchestral version” in the finale, is minimal at best: a couple of shifting tones and a brief thematic line to break the monotony. It succeeds, albeit temporarily, and for half a second you think the score is going somewhere… but then the monotony takes over again. Its hard work to stay awake during The Clearing.

Looking at Brugge’s history as a producer, you can see that he has been involved in productions such as The Insider (which featured a small, ambient score from Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke), Heat (which featured a restrained score from Elliot Goldenthal) and The Pelican Brief (which featured a restrained score from James Horner). Maybe he’s simply a man who doesn’t have a great affinity for film music. Maybe he’s one of these people who likes the naturalistic realism of a film scored with very little musical accompaniment to take away the impact of his imagery. Whatever the case, The Clearing is arguably one of the most mind-numbing scores in recent memory, and it drags on for what feel like an interminably long time. Why didn’t Varése Sarabande release Shrek 2, or The Stepford Wives, or Walking Tall, instead of this. It’s the film music equivalent of a tranquillizer dart.

Rating: *

Track Listing:

  • The Clearing Main Theme (Solo Violin) (1:20)
  • Arnold Gets Dressed (1:23)
  • Arnold On His Way (1:47)
  • Wayne, Please Don’t Be Late (1:00)
  • Arnold Kidnaps Wayne (1:27)
  • The Clearing Main Theme (Solo Piano) (2:45)
  • The Journey Into The Forest (2:09)
  • A Cigarette Break (1:50)
  • Do You Know Louise Miller? (1:32)
  • Have Always Had That Moustache (2:24)
  • I Love My Wife (2:33)
  • Tim Yells At Fuller (2:22)
  • Wayne’s Cell Phone Rings (1:36)
  • I Love Him And She Admires Him (1:28)
  • At The Stream (5:43)
  • It’s Blood (1:48)
  • Wayne Makes A Run For It (2:09)
  • She’s On The Move (2:53)
  • Stop Here Please (0:53)
  • You Need A Sign Of Life (5:38)
  • Don’t Forget The Trash (1:43)
  • The Interrogation (1:45)
  • Wayne’s Murder (0:45)
  • I Have Everything I Need (3:14)
  • The Clearing Main Theme (Orchestral Version) (3:08)

Running Time: 55 minutes 04 seconds

Varése Sarabande VSD-6585 (2004)

Music composed by Craig Armstrong. Conducted and orchestrated by Matt Dunkley. Featured musical soloists Clio Gould and Craig Armstrong. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster and Rupert Coulson. Album produced by Craig Armstrong and David Donaldson.

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