Home > Reviews > PERFECT STRANGER – Antônio Pinto


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

There’s a disappointing musical trend developing in the world of the modern Hollywood thriller: nobody’s willing to write memorable music any more. It’s possibly another holdover from television scoring, where music’s sole purpose seems simply to be to fill the dead air time between the dialogue and the songs, but to have this kind of lack of vision or technique bleeding through to film scoring is unsatisfactory indeed. A case in point is Perfect Stranger, written by Brazilian composer Antônio Pinto. Pinto, having already contributed music to Collateral in 2004 and Lord of War in 2005, has shown an irritating lack of innovation in his music, which continues here – it’s a score which, for all intents and purposes, is just “there”, never really adding any extra dimension to the film, never really doing anything musically interesting, and not making for an especially interesting listening experience.

Directed by James Foley, the film stars Halle Berry as investigative journalist Rowena, who specializes in going undercover to expose white-collar fraud. When Rowena’s old friend Grace (Nicki Aycox) is found murdered, her attentions turn to powerful New York ad executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis) – Rowena discovers that Grace and Harrison had been having an affair, and that Grace may have been pregnant. Deciding to investigate on her own, Rowena goes undercover at Harrison’s corporate office disguised as a temp, and uses her ‘womanly charms’ to pump Hill for information, while her colleague Miles (Giovanni Ribisi) feeds her dirty information. Of course, as always happens in films such as this, nothing is quite as it seems, and as Rowena finds herself getting closer and closer to Hill, her life becomes increasingly threatened…

Written for a large string orchestra with additional pianos, keyboard, guitars and his ubiquitous Brazilian rabeca violin, Perfect Stranger would look to have the potential to be an excellent thriller score. A femme fatale leading lady, plot twists, intrigue, double crossing, murder… it all sounds very good. Unfortunately, Pinto seems more than content simply to provide the film with endlessly bland see-sawing string chords augmented by an array of bubbly synthesized drum loops, just like every other D-grade thriller score for every D-grade thriller movie in the last five years.

His main theme, heard prominently in “Homeland”, clearly wants to be a cousin to Jerry Goldsmith’s Basic Instinct or one of John Barry’s dark jazz efforts, with slithery textures, subliminal saxophones, and an air of mystery, but it fails to generate the same spark of erotic mystery on every count. Occasionally it’s also reminiscent of Christopher Young’s underrated thriller score Copycat, as in “Perfect and Stranger”, but again these similarities are fleeting, and actually serve more as reminders of other, better scores rather than making this one more engaging.

The rest of the time, though, Pinto takes one of two approaches – first, he simply piles on the percussion, tick-tocking his way through the action scenes, doing nothing more than providing an internal metronome for the film to feed off, as in “The Search”, “H2H”, “Big Thing”, “Mia”, and others. Otherwise, as mentioned before, his string section simply see-saws for minutes at a time, attempting to bring some kind of neo-noir tension to the scene, but not really succeeding. Worse still, cues like “Ride to Nowhere” are featureless soundscapes of little more than ambient noise.

“Stranger Perfection” does offer a moment of piqued interest with its propulsive string writing and lonely-sounding piano melody; the rather nice “Strange Justice” works a dirty-sounding electric guitar into the mix in a briefly attention-grabbing new texture; and during the finale, “The End”, Pinto finally allows his orchestra to rise to perform a kind of cathartic conclusive piece which is actually very good, but is too little too late. The song, “Troubled Waters” is appropriately morose and ethereal, as performed by American indie-rock singer songwriter Cat Power.

It’s actually very difficult to review scores like Perfect Stranger, and to say anything interesting about them, when the score itself has no interesting things to say itself. It’s music-as-wallpaper, aural cottage cheese, soundtrack ketchup. It’s just there, neither offensive or inoffensive, but leaving the listener with an overwhelming urge to simply shrug and say “so what?”. The director loved it, as is clear by his gushing liner notes. I’m sure it works well enough in the film – but then again, any score which doesn’t actively make its film worse can be seen to be working well enough. And I’m sure Antônio Pinto is happy with it, having taken a healthy box office return in its opening weekends. Beyond this, though, I find I have very little else to say.

Rating: **

Track Listing:

  • Troubled Waters (written by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston, performed by Cat Power) (3:30)
  • Perfect Stranger (1:14)
  • Homeland (1:00)
  • Stranger Perfection (2:55)
  • Ride to Nowhere (2:05)
  • Meet the Killer (1:43)
  • The Search (2:32)
  • Decision to Kill (1:48)
  • Miles (1:12)
  • Perfect and Stranger (1:42)
  • Secret Room (5:14)
  • Strange Justice (4:23)
  • H2H (1:47)
  • The Passage (0:28)
  • Mistake (1:30)
  • The Boss (1:03)
  • Snow Child (2:21)
  • Strange Senator (1:03)
  • Big Thing (0:34)
  • Grace (0:50)
  • Mia (1:23)
  • Meet the Knife (1:12)
  • Caught (1:24)
  • The End (1:45)

Running Time: 44 minutes 38 seconds

Lakeshore LKS-33907 (2007)

Music composed by Antônio Pinto. Conducted by Bruce Fowler. Orchestrations by Antônio Pinto and Ed Cortes. Additional music by Gui Amabis. Featured musical soloists Antônio Pinto, Joe Patitucci, Bruno Buarque, Yaniel Mattos and Siba. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander. Edited by Mick Gormaley and Nic Ratner. Album produced by Antônio Pinto.

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