Varese Sarabande: 40 Years of Great Film Music 1978-2018Varese Sarabande
Released: November 16, 2018
Format: CD (155 min)
Review: Million Dollar Baby
2 / 5 Stars
Here's my bias: I am unhappy that Million Dollar Baby won the awards that it did. This has nothing to do with the actual quality of the movie. This distain for the movie is, admittedly, totally irrational and not something I can put aside logically. So I warn anyone reading that it colors my review in every way. I've heard many remark that the movie's music was unfairly ignored for a Best Original Score nomination along with The Incredibles and The Aviator. I agree on the later two, but not on Million Dollar Baby.
This soundtrack shows, in my opinion, the gradual declining quality of Eastwood's music over the last decade. Eastwood has always had a strong collaboration with composer Lennie Niehaus, stretching back to when he was an orchestrator on Escape from Alcatraz. They quickly found a comfortable balance; Niehaus would write the score while Eastwood wrote the songs (with Bronco Billy, Tightrope or Heartbreak Ridge. Starting with Unforgiven, the two of them wrote the scores together, up through Space Cowboys. The result was a series of solid works.
Then with Mystic River, Eastwood took over the composing completely and relegated Niehaus to conductor/orchestrator - and that's where everything went down hill. Clint Eastwood can still come up with a great theme ("Claudia's Theme" from Unforgiven is a classic), but without Niehaus guiding the music, the score plods along. With Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood creates a beautiful a memorable simple blues theme ("Blue Morgan"). The second theme to the movie is the "serious" theme, a melancholy string and piano theme that in its serious sections ("Deep in Thought") uses with the simple rising and fall strings already familiar from in Mystic River.
And that's about it. Neither of these themes are bad in any way. They are simple and that is very much Eastwood's point. But the album has an utter lack of development of these two themes. "Blue Morgan" is used to little variation in "The Letters", "Boxing Montage", "Driving", "Opening" and "End Credits". Similarly the serious theme repeats itself in "Deep in Thought", "The Letters" , "It's a Nice Viewing", "Pick up Money", "They're Amateurs" and "Nice Working with You" (which actually overlaps the two themes). This is over half of the album devoted to ramblings on two bare themes. There are some random other tracks that are great. "Boxing Baby" has a nice bluesy- road-house vibe, while is "Frankie's Office" is a delicate piano piece.
But even when you add it all up, it still feels like half of a film score.
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