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Soundtrack review: Suburbicon (Alexandre Desplat – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Suburbicon (Alexandre Desplat – 2017)

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“Suburbicon” is a 2017 American crime comedy film directed by George Clooney and written by Clooney, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, and Grant Heslov. The film stars Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac, and follows a mild-mannered father who must face his demons after a home invasion shakes his quaint neighbourhood in 1959. Usually a Coen Brothers movie or even separately a George Clooney / Matt Damon movie would be on my list and even if this one is getting bad reviews I will see it. Carter Burwell has moved on to quieter, more textural symphonic scores so naturally the one composer who could deliver the light and satirical piano quirks needed by the story was Alexandre Desplat.

The opening cue “Welcome to Suburbicon” takes the sound of Desplat’s French roots and places it in suburban America in 1959; it’s that light and joyful orchestral sound that I remember from French comedies from decades ago and it does a great job in introducing us in the setting of the story, both temporal and emotional. The mood quiets down in a surprisingly melodic piano theme “Friends”; usually Desplat likes to keep his piano vivid and alert but here rules melancholy. The flute evokes pastoral images and I find myself enjoying a lyrical piano piece in this score. I have often complained about the music of Alexandre Desplat sometimes lacking the depth I like to hear in a score but a cue like “A prayer for Rose” really gets to me, quiet and light as it is. There is something about the dialogue between the woodwind instrument and the soft percussion that intrigues me.

There is a 7 minute long cue on this score “Men in the house” that will tell anyone that it’s a Coen Brothers related movie; it’s that specific tension, that slight playfulness in the music that makes me think of dark comedy, the combination of horn and barely touched strings that suggest tip toeing and sneaking around. It’s not a lot to hold that length of the cue though and I am starting to miss the darkness in Carter Burwell’s scores. Desplat goes for suspense and lyricism that don’t go very deep or very dark but keep the music in that place where I feel I need the movie images to have a more complete and meaningful picture. The tone and pace of the score rarely changes and it’s when it does change that I am enjoying it more, when it gets more emotional, more serious like in “We’ll go to Aruba”. This is music I like and music I can relate to. I wish there were more of this or the beautiful and inspiring “What did you do”.

Alexandre Desplat fans will have no complain about this one as the composer uses his usual tools to create the suspense and action; the short motifs that succeed rapidly, the bursts of orchestral fervour to mark the violence and the background texture will all work even better in the context of the movie, I’m sure. As always Alexandre Desplat’s music is perfectly fused with the images so there are moments when it lacks something in the standalone listen for me. When the music does click, like in marvelous and efervescent orchestral wonders like “Playing catch in the sun” it makes me regret that I don’t hear more of this in the score.

Cue rating: 84 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 18 / 64

Album excellence: 28%

Highlights:
A Prayer For Rose
We’ll Go To Aruba
What Did You Do?
Unlucky Bud
Aftermath
Playing Catch In The Sun
Suburbicon Good Night

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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