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Film Music Critique Essay

Action, suspense, love, and drama are all the makings for a great film. None of these key features to a film could have any substance or feeling without the help of music. Composers play a big role for setting the tone of the movie, developing characters, moving along or supporting action, and depicting the time and place the movie is taking place. In the movie Heat, Elliot Goldenthal does just that. Goldenthal was born in NY in 1954 and studied music under John Corigliano and Aaron Copeland. His partner is Julie Taymor and he won an Oscar for the movie Frida which Julie directed.

Goldenthal has composed for several films as well as concert halls, theater and dance. He also has written an opera Grendel, which premiered in 1996 by The LA Opera Company. The movie opens with the main title fading in from black accompanied by a light string tone with horns backing them up (with a quick electric guitar when De Niro’s and Pacino’s names appear). This sets the overall tone for the movie presenting more of a serious / dramatic feel. The LA Metro begins to immerge into the background.

The music complements the train passing, closely resembling the way Quincy Jones scored the opening of In Cold Blood with the bus passing by. There is a little change to the music when Robert De Niro’s character appears on screen which has a jazz tone that lets the audience know that this is in the city, in this case downtown Los Angeles. The music follows De Niro to an emergency hospital. At this point the music turns more intense with guitar and a prominent bass line moving the action along.

There is a use of low strings moving very rapidly in the background that helps push the action along even more as he walks through the E. R. This music carries on when the scene cuts and goes to Val Kilmer making a purchase in a construction yard. The music connects the two characters by carrying over through the scene. It also has an ominous feel that suggest that these two characters are more than likely the villains in the movie. The scene cuts to the hero, Al Pacino, with his wife and the music abruptly stops. This distinguishes his character of the hero, from the other two villain characters. At the end of the movie Robert De Niro’s character is trying to escape the country with the girl while Al Pacino’s character is right on his tail.

There is a moment when De Niro realizes he cannot make it out with the girl and in and unspoken stare he leaves. The music matches the feeling of the moment using long drown out chords creating that sense a wanting and loss. As Pacino chases De Niro through a field the music stops to intensify the action and set up the final scene. The music fades back in shortly before Pacino shoots De Niro. The music carries into a high key riff that is repeated with strings playing four tones slowly behind the keys.

The music grows louder adding more instruments such as large cymbals and carries into the credits. Goldenthal’s score was replaced in the final scene with Moby’s “God Moving Over the Face of the Water. ” Director Michael Mann felt that Moby’s music better represented a feeling of relief, that it was over, that Pacino finally got his guy. At the same time the music related the two characters. Opposite from the beginning where the music separated the two, here it connects them demonstrating how they were not that different and had respect and admiration for each other.


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