So it’s time for the first Cultoid review of a movie score. All things considered we decided it would be best to start with a classic, and an absolute belter, hence Road to Perdition.
This is a very special collection of themes and motifs. From the off it is full of emotion and symbolism. The first track ‘Rock Island 1931’ begins softly and with a contemplative atmosphere. Then come the surging strings, pushing in and disappearing like waves on to the shore. This gives way to an entrancing melody played on Uillean Pipes that breath life to the story but also pay homage to the Irish heritage of the film’s main characters.
In fact there is a great deal of ethnic and traditional instrumentation used here, including the Irish Bouzouki which is used to great effect as both a provider of rhythm and percussion. This adds to the authenticity of the composition as a whole, which in turn heightens the already incredible film to a whole other level.
In general this is a sombre affair. The majority of tracks settling for heavy piano and string motifs, whose juxtaposition of minimal to multi-layered are powerful enough to bring tears to your eyes without even needing the context of the film. The standout track is Road to Chicago – from a scene which sees Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) fleeing with his son to find safety in the city. This track captures the emotions and messages of the scene with absolute perfection. The opening piano run is full of foreboding. It reeks of uncertainty and as it builds the melody wonderfully reflects the sadness of a broken man not knowing what to do, the realisation of a divide between father and son and then opens out into a stirring string section that accompanies the awe inspiring vision of 1931 Chicago as seen through a child’s eyes.
The other big standout is the ‘Road to Perdition’ theme. This movement is a recurring motif used throughout the film and whilst it too is tinged with sadness, it also carries a piano passage that veers uncharacteristically into a major key and suddenly offers the hope for redemption; that no matter how far down the wrong path a man can go, there is time to make amends, or at least make peace with who you are, or in this case, what you have done.
It actually channels some of the feel of Newman’s Shawshank Redemption score, which is no bad thing; happy to let the music breathe through entrancing sustained piano chords before gently upping the layers and adding the exact right solo instrumentation and melody to cause the maximum effect on both the story and the audience’s reactions.
This is certainly not a score to have a party to, but should be celebrated nonetheless. I rarely find that even in scores I love, I love them all the way through. This is one of the exceptions. One of those pieces of genius that you can put on and shut your eyes to. It is the kind of music that commands the ear, and at the same time massages it into total relaxation.
Thomas Newman is a man who began his career as an uncredited orchestrator on the Return of the Jedi. I can only assume that a good deal of that John Williams magic rubbed off on him, making him one of the most emotive and cinematic composers working today.