The Informant

CD Review: The Informant!

I didn’t know how much I missed Marvin Hamlisch!

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard a score from the Tony, Grammy, Emmy, Golden Globe, Pulitzer Prize, and triple Oscar winner–1996 to be exact. His score for Barbra Streisand’s last piece of cinematic dreck, THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES, was one of the few bright spots of that stinker. You’d have to go even further back to 1984’s TV version of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, starring Ann-Margret and Treat Williams, and SOPHIE’S CHOICE in 1982 to find a project truly worthy of his talents. With a welcome return to films with Steven Soderbergh’s THE INFORMANT!, Hamlisch has composed the most joyous score of 2009.

Steven Soderbergh’s comedy crime thriller, based on a true story, stars Matt Damon as a high-level, bipolar executive at agri-business giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) who blows the whistle to the FBI on the company’s price-fixing strategies. According to the CD liner notes, Soderbergh hired Hamlisch after watching Woody Allen’s classic BANANAS and being reminded of “my longtime love of Marvin Hamlisch’s spectacular score.”

Hamlisch’s score for THE INFORMANT! is part Burt Bacharach, part Quincy Jones, with a touch of James Bond, jazz, big band, and hillbilly thrown in for good measure. In a time when so many scores sound the same, Hamlisch utilizes his considerable gifts to mold these zany, disparate elements together into a breezy, buoyant breath of fresh air for film music fans.

“Meet Mark,” with its chirpy flute/piccolo/clarinet trio, and Hammond organ, is the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon stroll. As the track played through my ear buds, this jaded New Yorker felt an oh so rare bounce in his step and the overwhelming urge to approach complete strangers in the street with a bigass grin, a friendly wave, and “Howdy, neighbor!”

The Informant soundtrack
“Meet Mark”
“The Raid”

In tracks like “Car Meeting” and “Sellout,” 32 years after his Oscar-nominated for THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, Hamlisch once again channels his own inner 007. “The Raid,” with its kazoo (or tissue paper and a comb, for all I know), harmonica, and a touch of Quincy’s “Soul Bossa Nova” from AUSTIN POWERS, had me bouncing like a bubblehead doll in the rear window of some tacky Chevy sedan.

But not everything is played tongue in cheek. In tracks like “The Informant” and “Boxes,” the gorgeous main theme, whether on trumpet or piano, brings a lush, cabaret feel to the score that allows Hamlisch to once again display his superb grasp of melody. The bluesy “Trust Me” later gets lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, a Steve Tyrell vocal, and a kickass big band arrangement.

Hamlisch could probably write a score like this in his sleep. But there’s real craft on display and Hamlisch pulls it off without the least bit of pretension, making it all seem easy-breezy and effortless. If you can listen to this score sitting still, you’re dead. More than likely you’ll groove out grinning from ear to ear.

THE INFORMANT! easily ranks alongside Michael Giacchino’s one-two punch of STAR TREK and UP as one of the best film scores of the year. I’d love to see Hamlisch get some Oscar attention for this, though that seems unlikely. Either way, welcome back, Marvin. I missed you!

  1. I never disliked Marvin Hamlish’s music, but I couldn’t understand why he was getting awarded with all the accolades during the 70’s? I really like Bananas, but him winning 3 Oscars in one night(Two for the Way We Were,One for The Sting) and to top it off,the only composer ever to be Oscar-nominated for a James Bond Franchise…is beyond mind-boggling!

    From my first impression listening to the samples,this sounds like a really good score and the more times that I will listen to it, the more I believe it will be a Great score! I have no doubt in my mind it will become an Oscar and Grammy contender next year. Btw, I hope the movie is good too!

    1. The triple Oscars were just a fluke of timing. THE WAY WE WERE was a HUGE hit, and the song just brought in the score win with it. It happens a lot, some of them deserved, some not: LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING, HIGH NOON, THE WIZARD OF OZ, PINOCCHIO, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, MARY POPPINS, BORN FREE, FAME, TITANIC, THE RETURN OF THE KING, all those Disney musicals, and as recently as last year with SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.

      THE STING was also a big hit at the box office and on the radio. As the movie of the year, there was no way Hamlisch wasn’t going to win for that as well. So it was a weird planetary alignment that I doubt will ever happen again.

      His Bond score nomination is a joke, ’nuff said. Though “Nobody Does It Better” is a great song.

      As for his chances at the Oscars and Grammys, even with Hamlisch’s darling status with both institutions, the film will need some box office popularity. And since it was beat this weekend by the MEATBALLS cartoon (at a third of the projected weekend total and per-screen average), it has a rough road ahead.

      Yet I remain hopeful at this point that Hamlisch gets some recognition for it. It’s just so much bloody fun.

  2. Pingback: 2009 Satellite Award Nominees | Film Score Click Track
  3. Absolutely love “The Raid” Cinematically perfect to think the FBI is taking harddrives and files out of the building to such a bouncy fun goofy song reminds me of Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass “Whipped cream and other delights” I get this song in my head and my wife and I just giggle. Poot Poot dah dah dah de de de.

    1. Hi Johnny, thanks for commenting! I hadn’t thought about that Herb Alpert album, but it certainly makes sense. Such a great track, isn’t it? You’ve got good taste. :)

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