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CD Review: The Interpreter

by Cary Wong

The Interpreter *** 1/2


Varèse Sarabande 302 066 0651 2

14 tracks - 45:06

Last year, James Newton Howard wrote what may end up as one of the best scores of the last decade with his Oscar-nominated The Village. For his follow-up, he returns to more familiar ground, although this time with a more world music flavor. The Interpreter is director Sydney Pollack's first movie since 1999's disastrous Random Hearts. This latest film is an adult drama disguised as a thriller, with Silvia (Nicole Kidman), an African-language interpreter for the UN, overhearing an assassination plot to kill an African leader, and Tobin (Sean Penn), the cop running the case. Although there is an attraction between Silvia and Tobin, the movie is more preoccupied with messages about human rights and political wrangling.

Pollack is most often associated with composer Dave Grusin, but he has worked with other major composers, notably John Williams on Sabrina, and John Barry on Out of Africa. Howard has written for Pollack an unsurprising but extremely likable score for a complicated and plot-heavy movie. And maybe it's the world music presence or maybe Howard was thinking ahead to Batman Begins, but Howard's score is his closest yet to a Hans Zimmer homage.

There are three set pieces to the movie and the score, and in all three cases, the synthesis of acting, directing and music come together to create wonderful moods and suspense. The first cue, "Matobo" is the first scene in the film and is more or less a prologue that gives away too much information about the fate of Silvia's brother in the fictitious African country. But the eight-minute track is a effectively subdued, world-music infused suspense cue. "Guy Forgot His Lunch" is equally spine-tingling and is the best cat-and-mouse baiting action scene director Pollack has ever orchestrated. But where Howard truly shines is in the final, six-minute "Zuwanie Arrival at UN," which builds to the finale with wonderful pomp, menace, and full orchestral forces.

Each of the main characters also gets quieter, subdued moments. Silvia receives "Did He Leave a Note" and Tobin warrants "Tobin Comes Home," both of which serve as tonic between the action. Tobin's scene, driven by a lovely piano interlude, is especially haunting. Howard fans will not be disappointed by this mature score from a composer who keeps growing.

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March 24
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Alex North wins an Honorary Oscar, “in recognition of his brilliant artistry in the creation of memorable music for a host of distinguished motion pictures;” John Barry wins his fourth Oscar, for the Out of Africa score (1986)
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Brian Easdale wins only Oscar, for The Red Shoes score (1949)
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