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THE JUDGE – Thomas Newman

October 18, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

thejudgeOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Judge is a family drama film directed by David Dobkin, who previously helmed such popular movies as Wedding Crashers and Fred Claus, and starring Robert Downey Jr. as Hank Palmer, a hotshot defense attorney living the high life in the big city, who returns to his sleepy Indiana hometown following the death of his mother. However, further problems await Hank when his estranged and distant father Joseph (Robert Duvall) – the town’s long-serving judge – is unexpectedly arrested, suspected of murder. Suddenly forced to become his own father’s lawyer, Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his fractured family, while rekindling his relationship with an old flame. The film has a stellar supporting cast including Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, and Vincent d’Onofrio, and has an original score by Thomas Newman, who excels at writing music for this type of film.

In my recent review of The Equalizer, I wrote: “before I listened to the score, and before I saw the film, I knew exactly what this score would sound like, based purely on the name of the director, the name of the composer, and the genre of the film, and I was right.” In the case of The Equalizer, this was a negative thing, because that score was written in a style I generally don’t care for. In the case of The Judge, I could say exactly the same thing. If you have heard any of Thomas Newman’s pleasant drama scores over the years – The Help, Saving Mr. Banks, going all the way back to things like The Horse Whisperer and even Whispers in the Dark – then you will know exactly what this score sounds like. Gentle, intimate string writing. Quirky struck and plucked percussion items. Appealingly warm orchestrations. It’s all really agreeable and charming, and anyone with an affinity for Newman’s style will find it much to their liking. But, having criticized Harry Gregson-Williams for his unoriginality, can I then turn around and praise Thomas Newman for writing music that is just as unoriginal, but which I find more to my taste? It’s an interesting quandary, and one to which I’m not sure I know the answer, except to say that, from a purely subjective point of view, I enjoyed listening to The Judge a great deal.

Cues like the opening “Phantom Witness,” and later cues like “Mercury Glass,” “Shelby Road,” and the ghostly “Night Fit,” augment the orchestra with more contemporary synth elements which seek to increase the drama of the piece, adding a touch of evocative mystery. Later, “Wooden Nickel,” “Twenty Degree Bend,” and “Aye of Knute” add some more urgent rhythmic ideas that sound quite striking in comparison to the gentle airiness of the cues that surround them.

“St. Francis,” “The Judge,” “Hope Stevens,” and the entrancing “Carla’s Father” have a sense of peacefulness, combining moody piano chords and a soft string wash with the familiar woodwind phrases that Newman has used throughout his career to indicate nostalgia for a timeless time and a welcoming place. George Doering’s travelling bag of oddball string instruments gives cues like “Indiana” and “Never on Pavement” a similarly appealing feeling of small-town affection, a bit of Midwestern salt-of-the-earth steadfastness that is very engaging. The lyrical piano melody in the too-brief “Samantha” is just lovely, and re-appears later in the equally lovely “Watch and Learn,” seemingly emerging as a thematic identity for the re-awakening of the relationship between high school sweethearts who never forgot each other despite the passage of time. It’s final, more sweeping performance in “I Choose You” has genuine sentiment and a pleasing intimacy.

More upbeat rhythmic writing, complete with Newman’s regular complement of percussive peculiarities, give cues like “Reward for Dog,” the extended “Light a Match,” “Diamond Collapsible,” and the sunny “Ten Speed” a sense of lively eccentricity, movement, and curiosity. “Missing Time,” at a hair over five minutes, is the longest cue on the album, and is given the opportunity to breathe and develop over that period; similarly, the conclusive “Wabash River Float” has a wistful quality, gently ending the album – and allowing the film to conclude – with a sense of tranquility and relief.

As I said, The Judge is a lovely score, containing all the things that have made Thomas Newman such a popular and reliable composer over the past couple of decades. Anyone who enjoys Newman’s small-scale, lyrical, emotional scores, especially when they are combined with the marimba-led small town Americana sound he developed in scores like American Beauty, will find plenty to enjoy here. But, as I also said, there’s not an original note to be heard anywhere in the score, and that is something worth mentioning as a criticism. Much of The Judge plays like a Thomas Newman Greatest Hits album, and although I find this music very enjoyable to listen to, to I have point it out as the album’s major drawback. If I’m not letting Harry Gregson-Williams get away with it for The Equalizer, I can’t let Thomas Newman get a free pass either.

Buy the Judge soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Phantom Witness (1:49)
  • Mercury Glass (1:52)
  • Bag of Tricks (1:03)
  • St. Francis (1:31)
  • Indiana (2:14)
  • Samantha (1:11)
  • Wooden Nickel (1:50)
  • The Judge (1:16)
  • Reward for Dog (1:03)
  • Blood Evidence (0:37)
  • Shelby Rd. (1:54)
  • Never on Pavement (1:06)
  • Light a Match (2:46)
  • Hope Stevens (1:39)
  • Diamond Collapsible (1:30)
  • Carla’s Father (1:08)
  • Ten Speed (0:58)
  • Old Room (0:51)
  • Night Fit (Velvet Box) (1:31)
  • Twenty Degree Bend (2:38)
  • Watch and learn (1:54)
  • Tire and Rim (0:40)
  • Aye of Knute (1:50)
  • Missing Time (5:05)
  • Trophies (1:07)
  • I Choose You (2:00)
  • Wabash River Float (4:19)

Running Time: 47 minutes 22 seconds

Watertower Music (2014)

Music composed and conducted by Thomas Newman. Orchestrations by J.A.C. Redford. Featured musical soloist George Doering. Recorded and mixed by Tommy Vicari. Edited by Dan DiPrima. Album produced by Thomas Newman.

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