CD Review: CHANGELING
Composer: Clint Eastwood
Label: Varese Sarabande
Suggested Retail Price: $13.99
Where most directors who dare to try the scoring game do so straight off in their careers (a la John Carpenter and Alejandro Amenabar), it might seem odd that Clint Eastwood got into it so late. But then, Hollywood’s wiry personification of all things macho has been into delicate melodic sounds way before he appeared in REVENGE OF THE CREATURE. It was a love of music that could be heard (sometimes better than not) as a country-western singer in movies like PAINT YOUR WAGON and HONKEYTONK MAN. It showed in the effective choice of lite jazz tunes to back the amorous disc jockey of Eastwood’s debut as a star and director in PLAY MISTY FOR ME. This love for musicians, particularly jazz players, would never be more apparent than in Eastwood’s valentine to Charlie Parker in 1988’s BIRD.
While Clint Eastwood wouldn’t become a full-on composer until 2003’s MYSTIC RIVER, Eastwood has been providing instrumental tunes for nearly all of his films, most notably in A PERFECT WORLD, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTRY, UNFORGIVEN and ABSOLUTE POWER. All set the tone with the lyrical simplicity- the sound of a memorable tune being well told with the fewest notes possible. While Eastwood’s first full on jump into composing with MYSTIC RIVER was as dramatically over top as his film, the star’s following scores for MILLION DOLLAR BABY and FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS benefited from knowing that the best way to get into the audiences’ heart was with a guitar chord instead of a sledgehammer. As restrained and lyrical as a folk tune, Eastwood’s musical approach may not have been in the leagues the composers who accompanied him like Ennio Morricone or Lalo Schifrin. Yet all knew what it took to create a memorable theme.
It’s a delicate, dramatic path that leads to Eastwood’s new score for CHANGELING, a return to the tonal, tragic waters that last swept MYSTIC RIVER off course. Thankfully, Eastwood stands his ground well here for the most part, once again offering a lilting guitar and strings for this theme. There’s also the addition of brass, a subtle film noir sound that gets across the movie’s setting among corrupt LA cops of yore. Varying this motif from a piano to a full orchestra, Eastwood beautifully delineates the gentle, but resolute soul of a wronged mother who remains steadfast in the love for her son- even when given a false one.
As CHANGELING unfolds, Eastwood at first puts the theme everywhere, wallpapering scenes that would work just as well without any music. Thankfully, the director gets the composer on track to make CHANGELING his best film, and score since the underrated FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. Thankfully, this temporary problem isn’t apparent on CD, with Eastwood’s theme again being more than good enough to bear repetition- much in the way of other theme-centric composers like John Barry.
Eastwood’s theme takes the form of a tragic cello and tearful strings, bringing home the pain of a mother’s loss with wrenching emotion. Yet CHANGELING’s score isn’t only going to be the sum of this one part. As the mystery of her son’s disappearance horrifically deepens, Eastwood’s imposing wall of strings becomes a battle between tenderness and absolute evil. And while these cues have no shortage of sustains or rising bouts of anguish, Eastwood’s approach here doesn’t reach the overwrought heights that made MYSTIC RIVER unnavigable. When voices do show up here with its flashbacks of child murders, the effect is horror-movie unsettling, as it should be. While one might wish there was just a bit more melodic development going on in these SILENCE OF THE LAMBS-like passages, the impact of Eastwood’s wrenching suspense music more than does the job of making us wince- and more importantly, to feel.
These tragically surging pieces make up a good part of CHANGELING, their tension so unbearable that the return of Eastwood’s trademarked theme is almost a welcome relief. It comes in like a ray of sad, if somehow optimistic sunshine that tells us good will ultimately triumph over darkness. And once again, Clint Eastwood shows us how he’s always understood that some of the best film scoring comes through in the least amount of notes. With CHANGELING, he continues to show his growth in adding just the right amount of them, an exploration as a composer that will hopefully continue for some time to come.
Make Clint Eastwood’s musical day here.