Feb 22, 2009
DEFIANCE music composed by James Newton Howard
In the same tradition of his previous films, Glory, The Last Samurai & Blood Diamond, Edward Zwick tells the story of another violent time in history, this time during World War II in Defiance. Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell are cast as three brothers who escape the invasion of Poland by the Germans and hide deep in an Eastern European forest. There they begin building makeshift homes in the cold, uninhabitable forest, only to attract other Polish Jews on the run who want to hide in their "community". This not only puts a strain on the brother's relationships, but also the secrecy of their new "homes".
Zwick knows how to pick the composer for the film he is making, as all his film's scores are well received by the critic and the fans alike. There was James Horner's beautiful scores to Glory and Legends Of The Fall and Hans Zimmer's mysterious and haunting The Last Samurai. Before Defiance, Zwick teamed up with Zimmer's pal/composer James Newton Howard for Blood Diamond, a score which I can not say enough good things about...I absolutely loved Howard's work on that film....loved it.
James Newton Howard, ofcourse, is mostly famous for his 8 Acamdemy Award nominated scores, most notably the hauntingly wonderful The Village and now Defiance and was also the co-composer of the Christopher Nolan Batman films, with Hans Zimmer.
For Defiance, Howard and Zwick originally wanted a less obvious sound for the Jewish culture of that time in history (meaning the Itzhak Perlman violin solos of John Williams' classic Schindler's List and other films depicting such atrocities of the Holocaust), however after they went through a long list of instruments to represent the sound, they finally gave in to the beauty of the violin. Howard was no stranger to using the violin as a solo instrument in his scores, having used it to perfection in The Village, with violinist Hilary Hahn. This time around, Howard would call upon another young violinist, Joshua Bell, who shined quite brightly on John Corigliano's score to The Red Violin, to play as a soloist for Defiance.
Unlike William's fully orchestrated Schindler's List, Defiance plays much more subtly, almost to the point of minimalism in some spots. The instruments weave in and out of each others spotlight, rather than play together to reach an emotional climax of Hollywood grandeur, like some WWII Holocaust films before it would do.
From the first track we know immedietely this is not the album to put on while doing housework or going for a brisk walk. This album requires you to sit down and absorb the pain and emotion that is bled into each note.
"Main Titles" starts out with a low ominous growl with the brass section rumbling away, only to be broken by a lone stark violin angrily played by Joshua Bell, followed by the string section becoming more and more anxious or urgent. It's the perfect way to let you know the next 45 minutes of listening is going to be a dark one and will sour your good mood.
So be warned.
"Survivors" manages to break one's heart with Bell's violin playing at the outset, followed by Howard's recognizable string composition of string over string over string, which wouldn't sound out of place in The Village. "Make Them Count" continues with the dissonant ambience we briefly heard in "Main Titles". This ambience suffocates you and puts you into a place most would rather not visit, but we are given a breath of air with the strings filling in the end only to well up the tears.
"Your Wife" allows Bell's violin to play over a brand new string section theme. This theme is perhaps the most heartbreaking beautiful score cue to come across the screen in 2008...and that's just the music without the amazing scene it's played over...absolutely unforgettable. Howard and Bell are at their best during this cue.
"The Bielski Otriad" threatens to completely smother you with that brooding ambience again, even more so than previously, however this time around it plays like a desperate crescendo. The strings elegantly rush past you with anger and despair alike, played with perfection and a sense of urgency that gets your heart racing and just when you think your going to have a heart attack, the brass and percussion jump in and make sure you have that heart attack.
"Camp Montage" almost echoes Michael Kamen's Band Of Brothers or Williams' Saving Private Ryan, with the lone horn section introducing the cue and developing into a sad string heavy cue, that begs you to stare off into the grey sky off the shore of a lonely beach.
"Police Station" acts as if it's watching you from a distance and creeps in closer and closer...if the dreading dissonant tracks before didn't do the trick, this one will. It's ripped right out of the pages of a Hans Zimmer war score...the low synths sounds, the long brass tones and the high-note string section that almost pierce the ears.
"Tuvia Kisses Lilka", "Nothing Is Impossible" & "The Bielski Brothers/ Ikh Bin A Mame" end the album and prove to be 13 and a 1/2 minutes of solid music...not a second to be wasted. These three tracks pretty much round up all the themes and motifs heard throughout the rest of the score and play them to absolute perfection. Joshua Bell's playing on "Nothing Is Impossible" is something most players probably dream of being able to perform. Never have I heard such beauty and emotion put into one track before. I can't even do it justice, I believe it is that good. "The Bielski Brothers/ Ikh Bin A Mame" finishes off everything with a glimmer of hope and sadness rolled into one.
While the album does end on somewhat of a hopeful note, the last few notes played on the violin somehow doesn't let you forget the tragedy you've just experienced as well. The emotions linger for awhile and most often I find myself sitting in silence for a sometime, after finishing off the album, deep in thought and heart.
I've picked James Newton Howard's Defiance as my pick for the the Oscar Winner this year, for it's stark beauty, sadness and astonishing solo work by violinist Joshua Bell, all done with subtly and perfection you hardly notice how much it is affecting you until your far into the score all ready. In the end, whether Howard wins the award or not, it still proves he is one of the best film composers today and so far he has only gotten better and better. Hopefully he keeps going that way, which I'm sure he will for the years to come.
* * * * * HIGHLY RECOMMENDED