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SMOKIN’ ACES – Clint Mansell

January 26, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

Yet another Tarantino-inspired crime flick, Joe Carnahan’s “Smokin’ Aces” is one of the more wildly diverse motion pictures I’ve seen this year. It’s like channel surfing, and the only thing all the channels have in common is that they are violent and full of profanity. Otherwise, the tone flops all over the place… broad comedy, subtle comedy, brutal action, morality tale, anti-morality tale, mystery, drama… ultimately, the movie shoots off it’s climax too early and becomes too confused for it’s own good. Despite solid turns from the likes of Ryan Reynolds and Jeremy Piven, and an otherwise strong supporting cast, it’s just a big mess of a movie.

Director Joe Carnahan hired composer Clint Mansell to write the score, a somewhat unusual choice for the material. Mansell has a somewhat rabid fan base, as his scores for “The Fountain” and “Requiem for a Dream” are worshipped by various cult groups (rumor has it that there are over 2,000 people in the state of Wyoming alone that sacrifice cows in Mansell’s name every February). With the exception of his thrilling score for “Sahara”, Mansell has typically worked with smaller ensembles. He continues that trend with “Smokin’ Aces”, which combines Mansell’s rock roots with ideas for a small orchestra.

In some ways, the movie is like the dirty cousin of Howard Shore’s “The Departed”, generally leaning on guitars for music either upbeat or reflective. The opening piece, “Surveillance”, seems to be leading up to something, but never really gets there… it just rambles for eight minutes or so. Considerably more successful is the second piece, “Yo’Te Queiro (Oh Ma Corazon)”, which sports some gentle Hispanic music. It’s not until “Smokin’ Aces – It’s Buddy’s World” that Mansell really unleashes… he gives the first two minutes of the 10-minute cue a terrific jumpstart, with wailing electric guitars and punchy 70’s brass. After some interesting reverb ideas, he goes into some tender material for piano that is quite touching… in some ways, it reminds me a little of the more sedate portions of Harry Gregson-Williams’ “Spy Game”. Still, it all probably goes on a little too long, and not much happens in the next piece, “Three for the Roadkill”.

“Welcome to Tahoe” offers a quick guitar burst at the start, and some of the best reflective material appears in “Shellshock (Another Day, Another Dollar)”, which offers just a hint of the cathartic closing theme. It’s one of the more consistent pieces of the album, and a somewhat more somber seven minutes of music fills “Aftermath (Body Count)”, which is very nicely developed. For my money, though, it’s that finishing piece, “Dead Reckoning”, that blows the rest of the album out of the water. Though it’s comparatively shorter than the other cues (only three minutes), it’s just fantastic, a blazing combination of orchestra and rock that ends the album on a thrilling note.

Oddly enough, the score is a lot more sedate than I expected, considering my memories of the generally noisy film. Also oddly enough, the noisy moments are some of the best, injecting a really exciting modern energy into the album. The quiet moments are respectable enough, but there’s too many of them, and they don’t really do very much. Still, the album has it’s strong points. The long running times of the tracks allow for a more organic development, and director Joe Carnahan’s liner notes are some of the most amusing I have read in quite a while. If Mansell can ever craft a score that is consistently as good as the best moments of this one, it will be a killer album. Until then, this is an unsatisfying album, only because it wets the appetite for more pieces like the ending, and doesn’t provide them.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Surveillance (I-Spy and the FBI) (8:03)
  • Yo’Te Queiro (Oh Ma Corazon) (4:01)
  • Smokin’ Aces (Its Buddy’s World) (10:09)
  • Three For the Roadkill (2:44)
  • Welcome to Tahoe (2:36)
  • Shellshock (Another Day, Another Dollar) (8:05)
  • Aftermath (Body Count) (7:07)
  • Dead Reckoning (3:16)

Running Time: 46 minutes 01 seconds

Lakeshore Records LKS-33939 (2007)

Music composed by Clint Mansell. Conducted by Bruce Fowler. Orchestrations by Bruce Fowler, Rick Giovinazzo and Justin Skomarovsky. Edited by Jim Schultz. Score produced by Clint Mansell.

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