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STATE OF PLAY – Alex Heffes

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A high concept thriller with a stellar cast – Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright-Penn, Jeff Daniels, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis – State of Play follows the fortunes of a team of investigative reporters who work alongside a police detective to try to solve the murder of a congressman’s mistress. The film is directed by Kevin Macdonald, who received a great deal of critical acclaim for his film The Last King of Scotland in 2006, and has a score by young English composer Alex Heffes, who continues the collaboration he began with Macdonald on the documentary One Day in September in 1999 and which now spans seven films.

Firstly, I wanted to say how gratifying it is when a composer like Heffes is hired to score a major studio film based on his previous relationship with a director, and not replaced by a studio-approved ‘bigger name’. Unfortunately – but not unsurprisingly – Heffes’ music for State of Play is by far the least impressive score of his career to date. Taking its cue from similar scores by composers like Harry Gregson-Williams or Trevor Rabin, State of Play is a modern thriller score, with a small string section augmented by all manner of electronic pulses and sound effects, driving synthetic beats, and electric guitar licks.

Far too much of the score is obsessed with rhythm over melody; cues such as “Cal Connects the Evidence” and “Research” do little more than act as an internal metronome for the film, giving the scenes a sense of forward motion and an abstract sense of dedication and resourcefulness, but not much else. It’s not far removed from the scores that often accompany TV police procedural dramas such as CSI, NCIS and Bones, underscoring montages of dedicated investigators examining evidence and poring over computer screens. Granted, Heffes’ music is a little more sophisticated than the episodic TV fare, with the piano, guitar and percussion often building up a decent head of steam, but it’s all incredibly predictable.

Once in a while the orchestra rises to take center stage, notably via more expansive string writing during the middle part of “Conspiracy at the Highest Level” and towards the end of “The Cab Ride Home” and “Steven and Cal”. There are also some bittersweet piano and guitar writing, as heard in “The Americana Hotel” and the admittedly rather lovely finale “Writing the Article”, but it’s all too little too late, and the comparative monotony of the majority of the music surrounding it makes waiting for these high spots a chore.

There’s just one recurring musical idea holding the score together, but virtually no other identifiable thematic content to speak of beyond the basic instrumental palette and rhythmic parts, and very little engagement of the audience on an emotional level. State of Play was never released on CD, and is only available as a digital download on the Backlot Music label via Amazon and iTunes. Unless you’re a fan of the film, or of dull espionage scores like Spy Game or Enemy of the State, I’d suggest giving it a miss.

Rating: **½

Track Listing:

  • Opening Title & The Ballad of Sonia (2:23)
  • The Apartment (2:58)
  • Cal Connects the Evidence (4:34)
  • Research (4:36)
  • Conspiracy at the Highest Level (5:52)
  • The Americana Hotel (4:00)
  • A Political Suicide (3:32)
  • The Cab Ride Home (4:34)
  • Steven and Cal (4:38)
  • Writing the Article (2:40)

Running Time: 39 minutes 48 seconds

Backlot Music Digital Download (2009)

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