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THE ROAD – Nick Cave and Warren Ellis

November 27, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A harrowing post-apocalyptic drama based on the acclaimed novel by Cormac McCarthy, The Road stars Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as an unnamed father and son desperately trying to survive in a North America ravaged by the aftermath of nuclear war, avoiding gangs of lawless cannibalistic killers, seeking shelter from desperately cold weather conditions, and constantly pushing south in search of food, and other survivors. Director John Hillcoat’s bleak film is a meditation on life, on the retention of humanity in the face of desperation, and the lengths to which people will go to protect their families.

For the music, Hillcoat once again turned to songwriter and musician Nick Cave and violinist Warren Ellis, who worked on Hillcoat’s previous films The Proposition and To Have and To Hold. Like the film itself, Cave’s music is desolate and unforgiving, a bleak and dour musical depiction of a bleak and dour world. His score is mainly string based, with textures here and there for woodwinds, piano and, oddly, a tinkling celesta-type instrument that occasionally creeps into the mix, giving the score a child-like feeling.

The majority of the score is thematically limited, and is instead content to present a series of ambient, almost droning orchestral textures, although there are one or two cues that stand out. “The Road” is a restrained, minimalist piano piece overlaid by a yearning solo violin that seems to lamenting the loss of the world, and acts as the score’s main recurring thematic element. Variations on this style of writing appear later in cues such as “The Real Thing” and “The Far Road”. Later, cues such as “The Cannibals”, “The House”, the nervous, rhythmic “The Journey”, and the horrific “The Cellar” are filled with eerie electronic loops, thumping percussion, string-based dissonance and disturbing sound design elements that recall Jonny Greenwood’s work on There Will Be Blood, and successfully depict the horror of the cannibal gangs that the father and son must avoid.

The few moments of additional warmth come in cues such as “The Mother”, “Memory”, the surprisingly lovely “The Church”, and the conclusive “The Beach”, which incorporate hesitantly tender cello solos, gently sweet piano melodies and a less harsh aspect. However, even in cues such as these, the respite is fleeting; Cave knows that his protagonists are living in a hellish environment, and the music doesn’t allow them to rest for long. This isn’t a score which will appeal to score fans who enjoy tender, lyrical music; although the melodic core is always there, Cave intentionally makes a lot of his music cold, distant, unapproachable, and a little on the harsh side. While this suits the film to a tee, and although I liked it a lot, it doesn’t make for easy listening.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Home (2:04)
  • The Road (3:40)
  • Storytime (2:25)
  • The Cannibals (2:04)
  • Water and Ash (1:30)
  • The Mother (2:46)
  • The Real Thing (2:32)
  • Memory (3:42)
  • The House (3:16)
  • The Far Road (2:45)
  • The Church (1:34)
  • The Journey (4;14)
  • The Cellar (1:08)
  • The Bath (2:31)
  • The Family (3:41)
  • The Beach (3:45)
  • The Boy (3:11)

Running Time: 46 minutes 47 seconds

Mute Records 5099960770325 (2009)

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