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!”
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!