As a writer, I had an obvious interest in Roman Polanski’s latest, THE GHOST WRITER. The other main reason to see the film was Alexandre Desplat‘s score. From his early films with Krzysztof Komeda, Polanski has always taken a unique approach to scoring his films. And Desplat’s presence is no exception. I was curious to see and hear how he would score the story of a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) writing the memoirs of ex-British Prime Minister Pierce Brosnan, who becomes embroiled in the politician’s political problems when he is accused of war crimes.
Desplat is one of the strongest contemporary composers working in film. Few composers can convey so much with so few instruments, and his trademark delicate orchestrations are on display in this new score as well. Though Desplat’s music can occasionally take on a quality of sameness (due mostly likely to a case of over-exposure the last couple of years rather than lack of talent), his music is always intelligent and compelling. And so too is THE GHOST WRITER.
The score begins with an instrument that rarely gets to shine: the bass clarinet. Its staccato ostinato in the accompaniment falls on the ear like the relentless raindrops that fall through much of the film. It underscores the main theme, a creepy melody that, when played on “singing flutes,” sounds like the fog horn of the ferry that plays such a prominent role in the story. The muted trumpet also adds its staccato punctuation before the strings soar high above with sustained notes.
Lighter music inhabits the offices of “Rhinehart Publishing” and the true beauty of Desplat’s harmonies can be heard in the sustained strings of “Lang’s Memoirs.” “Suspicion” takes on a Herrmann-esque quality with its quiet strings, glockenspiel, and short rhythmic motifs. In the climactic “The Truth About Ruth,” Desplat brings all the elements of the score together in a sweeping 5-minute cue. As the camera swirls around the launch party for Lang’s (Brosnan) memoirs, Desplat ties together the musical threads as the story moves towards the inevitable and shocking conclusion that I should have seen coming.
My favorite cue is the exciting “Chase on the Ferry.” Here, Desplat uses simple repeated 16th notes in the strings, swelling chords, subtle heartbeats in the percussion, a sustained crescendo, and short rhythmic figures to convey the mounting terror of McGregor’s “Ghost” as his life is once again threatened, this time aboard the claustrophobic vessel.
The film is missing a certain gravitas and that light touch is only amplified by Desplat’s music. But perhaps the problem is in the script. Either way, I was never bored and the combination of film and score make an interesting pair, far above the average fare we’re forced to see and hear at the multiplex. As with most of Deplat’s music, the score is best listened to on headphones to capture the nuances in orchestration. Visit the Varese Sarabande site to hear more audio samples and to order the CD.
I enjoyed the score from the moment I unwrapped the cellophane and my enjoyment has only increased on subsequent listens. THE GHOST WRITER is an early candidate for my top 10 scores of the year.