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Parkland by James Newton Howard (Review)

posted Oct 17, 2013, 7:06 PM by Koray Savas   [ updated Oct 17, 2013, 7:06 PM ]

James Newton Howard digs deeper into the trenches with his most recent effort for the JFK political drama Parkland. Fans of Howard will most likely agree that the new decade has not been kind to the superb composer, whose scores now seem to be continually farther and farther away from the glory of his music composed between 1999 and 2009. The film feels like a retread of 2006's Bobby and less like Oliver Stone's JFK, in that it is more about the people that were directly affected by the assassination rather than the political circus surrounding it. Nonetheless, the music drags and meanders, never stepping out into the foreground and delivering on its inherent potential.

The music is mostly made up of sonic textures and percussion rhythms, with the occasional solo trumpet threading through for the expected Americana symbolism. The first and second passes at this score left me cold, but the third caught my attention somewhat. This is a quiet score, and it requires a properly secluded and ears forward listening session to fully appreciate the details in Howard's synth work. There is some interesting depth to the sound and how different sections of the orchestra layer in with the rest of the music. The score naturally feels shallow and submerged in the background of the story, so even at times when the pace picks up and stronger beats kick in, there is an invisible threshold that is never crossed. It fits right in the same style of previous Howard scores that work underneath the picture rather than on top of it, but the lack of any substantial structure and development really hurts the complete package.

Parkland is a largely uninteresting score that fails to keep your attention for any extended amount of time. Howard's low-key rhythms and sonic structures contain a fair amount of detail and depth, but they aren't strong enough to carry the narrative from start to finish in any meaningful way. Small bursts of piano and trumpet medleys give it a spark of American political flavor, but the simplicity of the compositions leave no lasting impression, passing in through one ear and out the other. For a successful low-key percussion score, hear Howard's own Michael Clayton; for a successful Kennedy assassination score, hear John Williams' JFK.