Score Reviews‎ > ‎

Nebraska by Mark Orton (Review)

posted Jan 23, 2014, 10:32 PM by Koray Savas   [ updated Jan 23, 2014, 10:32 PM ]

Alexander Payne is a director that can very clearly define the settings that embody his films. He uses the elements of filmmaking, from art direction and cinematography to costume design and score, to flesh out these quirky worlds he creates. The results are stories that are more atmospheric and immersive in an audiovisual and aesthetic sense rather than ones that are strictly driven by plot and characters. With Nebraska, he sought out musician Mark Orton, from the band Tin Hat, to tailor his pre-existing music to the film in addition to writing the score.

Orton's unique chamber sound ended up being a perfect fit for Payne's barren and timely midwestern landscapes. There is an authenticity in how the movie lets the events and character interactions unfold with a natural pace. The acting and dialogue never feels forced, and the same can be said about the music. The bluegrass and folk stylings ground the listener in the film's setting, while its slower pace and musical structure really synchs up with the editing and story. "Their Pie" serves as the main theme, its steady assuredness echoing the same characteristics of Bruce Dern's character Woody, as he treks across the midwest to claim his million dollar prize. It pops up every now and then to nudge us on our journey, but it never overstays its welcome. "The Ambush" is a great 'action' cue, as it were, in which Orton creates a sense of unease with the rhythms to trace the escalating hostility within Woody's family. Moreover, the highlight of the album is undoubtedly "New West," the Tin Hat song used in the trailer. The orchestration and dry sound reflects the setting and characters in Payne's story flawlessly. This combination of old and new music is not a first, but it is definitely an incredibly successful one. Orton's musical voice and Payne's visual voice meet and blend seamlessly on screen.

The simplicity of Mark Orton's score is its strongest aspect. His music steals the spotlight, though without force, and illuminates Alexander Payne's family drama rooted in midwestern quirk and culture. It feels personal yet distant, upbeat yet melancholic, and it's always breathing life into the film's well realized atmosphere.