2.5 / 5 Stars
It is no secret that I believe Alexandre Desplat to be one of the most versatile and promising composers working today. Every score he has written, whether for period drama (Girl With a Pearl Earring), supernatural drama (Birth), political thriller (Syriana), or suspense movie (Hostage) has been sparkling and new. He always approaches a subject with a fresh perspective and that feature in his work is what I believe will keep him scoring films for a long time.
With his impressive track record, I was surprised to be underwhelmed by his score to Firewall. I understand that he was a late replacement for Alan Silvestri and, impressively, wrote a large and demanding score in only ten days. But I felt as though he were recycling action tropes created by other composers and even himself for Hostage.
The score opens promisingly enough with tremolo strings sawing away underneath brass, percussion, and string hits above. It is an angular, unrelenting opening that promises great things to come. Unfortunately, two minutes into the "Firewall" cue, Desplat backs down. By the time we reach "Breaking In," with its horn clusters that grow from nowhere and its drive to the downbeat by the strings below sustained single notes, we really are not surprised when the electronics start in. It is something we have all heard before.
The main reason I was not completely taken with this score is the moments where I could hear flashes of what the score could have been. Most film composers are used to working in two and three minute blocks. They are experts at short development and thematic transformation. But when they attempt to write in longer time frames, the resulting cues tend to fall in on themselves. Desplat is a rare exception. The cue "Escape from the Bank" is a ten-minute cue that works structurally. The pacing is good and the musical architecture is balanced enough to keep you engaged and knowing where you are and how you got there. The level of planning necessary for a long cue is a tremendous talent. But the cue doesn\'t work musically. Structurally I was intrigued, musically I was unmoved.
Still, there are excellent points to this score. Unlike most composers who, when presented with the scenario "Harrison Ford must rob a bank to save his family, and he designed the security system!" would resort to a heavily sampled score, Desplat primarily utilizes a full orchestra with only a few moments of electronic percussion. Sure, it\'s a sound he used in Hostage, but it is such a departure from the norm these days that it sounds refreshing. Also, no one writes moments of aching longing like Desplat. The theme for the kidnapped family appears in "The Family Theme" first in a rhythmically indistinct piano line that is made up of nothing more than a falling sequence. A gentling rolling theme in four slowly emerges in the piano and horn, is taken over by a trumpet before moving into the strings. While it sounds simple in description, it is lovely in execution. When the theme returns in the full orchestra at the score\'s end in "Together Again," it acts as a point of rest, relieving the tension from the preceding twenty minutes.
Desplat is an excellent composer and with more time or a less formulaic movie, he probably would have created a more fascinating score. As it is, I would recommend revisiting Hostage and waiting to see what he might do next.