Sunday, October 14, 2018

Composing Greatness: #5. Thomas Newman - "Road to Perdition" (2002)

Scene from The Road to Perdition
Welcome to Composing Greatness: a column dedicated to exploring the work of film composers. This will specifically focus on the films that earned them Oscar nominations while exploring what makes it so special. This will be broken down into a look at the overall style, interesting moments within the composition, and what made the score worth nominating in the first place. This will also include various subcategories where I will rank the themes of each film along with any time that the composer actually wins. This is a column meant to explore a side of film that doesn't get enough credit while hopefully introducing audiences to an enriched view of more prolific composers' work. This will only cover scores/songs that are compiled in an easily accessible format (so no extended scores will be considered). Join me every Sunday as I cover these talents that if you don't know by name, you recognize by sound.

Series Composer: Thomas Newman
Entry: The Road To Perdition (2002)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Original Score (Musical or Comedy)
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-Frida (John Elliott Goldenthal)*winner
-Catch Me If You Can (John Williams)
-Far From Heaven (Elmer Bernstein)
-The Hours (Philip Glass)

Additional Information

This is to help provide perspective of where each composer is in their Oscar-nominated life as it related to the current entry.

Oscar Nomination: 5
Oscar Wins: 0

Track List

1. "Rock Island, 1931"
2. "Wake"
3. "Just the Feller
4. "Mr. Rance"
5. "Bit Borrowers"
6. "Murder (In Four Parts)"
7. "Road to Chicago"
8. "Reading Room"
9. "Someday Sweetheart"
10. "Meet Maguire"
11. "Blood Dog"
12. "Finn McGovern"
13. "The Farm"
14. "Dirty Money"
15. "Rain Hammers"
16. "A Blind Eye"
17. "Nothing to Trade"
18. "Queer Notions"
19. "Virgin Mary"
20. "Shoot the Dead"
21. "Grave Drive"
22. "Cathedral"
23. "There'll Be Some Changes Made"
24. "Ghosts"
25. "Lexington Hotel, Room 1432"
26. "Road to Perdition"
27. "Perdition - Piano Duet"

Note: Listen to here.

Exploring the Music
The area of the column where I will explore the music in as much detail as I see fit for each entry.

Theme Exploration:
"Rock Island, 1931"

With the start of another Thomas Newman scores comes another revelation about his career. Whereas his early nominations were achieved scores full of memorable moments, the work presented on Road to Perdition is more evidence of his abilities to have slow builds that capture the emotional deft of what a film score could be. Here, the music is almost silent for most of the first minute, eventually building harmonies through the subsequent minutes that warrant the slow start. There's a power to the somberness on display, capturing something unique about Newman's approach to score. As classical as this is, there's a bevvy of instruments effectively playing throughout that are reminiscent of the best days of John Williams. For what this score does in an understated fashion, it achieves in tonal brilliance.

Interesting Standout:
"Meet Maguire"

If there's any evidence that this score is among the finest that Thomas Newman was nominated for, it's in this track. Sure, there's more cohesive tracks, but what he does here is an example of once again building a melody while experimenting with sound. While this is a period piece, the music at times breaks free of that cliche and echoes with chaos and purpose, clashing in sirens and banjos to create a sense of urgency. There's clear worry in this track, and one that captures the composer at a moment of sheer ambition. It's hard not to love what he does here, if just because of how quickly this score feels accomplished and whole.

Best Moment:
"The Farm"

What's brilliant about this score is how all of it manages to be rooted in one singular style. Even as the music becomes chaotic and experimental at points, it all is rooted in this peaceful, nostalgic melancholy. Everything about it has a power. However, what makes Thomas Newman brilliant is how he manages to center everything around emotional piano pieces that capture a deeper resonance of character. It was true of American Beauty, and it comes across just as strongly here. Even if this is a more stripped down track compared to everything else here, it still pops with life and heart, and gets the listener feeling the intended emotion in all of the best ways that music can.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

I'll admit that the early run of Thomas Newman left me very skeptical as to whether he deserved every nomination. He was a good composer, but I didn't see the magic of The Shawshank Redemption. Here, he follows up the gem that was American Beauty with another score that is a sonic experience unto itself, giving him further evidence that he is a whiz kid with melodies. The way he builds the music has an incredible power over the listener, and the way it ebbs and flows throughout the entire experience is sublime. While I'm sure what won was deserving of it, I'm starting to get on board with the team that believes that Newman has been robbed of an Oscar win, especially for these past two. He has a power and efficiency to him that is undoubted. He's quickly becoming a force of nature, and it's a shame that he's fallen by the wayside at points. 

Up Next: Finding Nemo (2003) for Best Original Score

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by Thomas Newman.
1. "Dead Already" - American Beauty (1999)
2. "Orchard House" - Little Women (1994)
3. "Rock Island, 1931" - Road to Perdition (2002)
3. "Shawshank Prison (Stoic Theme)" - The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
4. "End Titles" - Unstrung Heroes (1995)

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