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After the phenomenal success of Larry Groupe's score for Deterrence, director Rob Lurie hired him again to score 2000's The Contender.  However, instead of the darkly evocative would-be orchestral score composed for the preceding film, Groupe has demonstrated his versatility by expanding to a full orchestra and penning a traditional Americana opus!  Due to the nature of the film, a drama regarding a political sex scandal, Groupe and Lurie leave the majority of the proceedings unscored, instead relegating the music to quick, one minute bursts of sweeping orchestral color, with the exception of the five-minute "Real Story."  Thus, the film challenges Groupe to create 13 meaningful, short compositions, and the soundtrack album reveals the staggering fruits of this effort.  This short suite contains 25 minutes of elegiac, moving Americana that, while not truly ingenious in its composition due to the requirement to stick to predefined cultural stipulations (i.e. John Williams), reveals Groupe to be a musical chameleon, constantly changing his style while still remaining at the top of his form.  Due to the brevity of The Contender's score, Citadel couples it with Groupe's even more masterful Deterrence score, reviewed elsewhere at this site, moving the total timing to 73 minutes.  In the end, because of both Deterrence's expertise and The Contender's interesting layout, most film score collectors will see the need to purchase this album, demonstrating Larry Groupe at the absolute top of his form.

Track by Track Analysis

1. The Statesman (1:30)
Groupe's score opens with a rather typical piano solo that meanders timidly across the middle register, but soon opens to reveal the main theme, a constantly-modulating, yet wholly American melody that will receive masterful interpolations throughout the score.

2. I Stand For (1:12)
Groupe's second track expands the theme to a full orchestra, passing the graceful, poignant melody throughout the strings and woodwinds.

3. Timmy Meets the President (1:16)
Continuing the timid, affecting orchestral colors, Groupe composes this standalone piece, containing Williamsesque Americana flourishes in the strings and woodwinds, as well as an ingenious, impromptu cameo of the main theme on clarinet.

4. Prophecy Fulfilled (:40)
Possibly the highlight of the score, Groupe returns to the evocative darkness of Deterrence with an undulating, hypnotic minor-key string ode coupled with an exotic, evocative soprano vocal.

5. Marching Orders (1:51)
Returning to the main theme, Groupe demonstrates both its simplicity and effectiveness with a straightforward variation for horns, which he augments with a bucolic string counterpoint melody.

6. The Real Story (5:25)
The longest track of The Contender, "The Real Story" unfolds slowly and deliberately, gradually expanding another tranquil string melody across crescendoing chordal accompaniment and counterpoint.  By the time the track climaxes, Groupe has mutated this melodic tidbit into a full version of the main theme.

7. Meet Mr. Makerowitz (1:22)
Eschewing the timid proceedings of previous cues, this introduces a devilish, tragic theme that hovers around the brink of dissonance.  One of the most notable facets of the Contender's score is its collection of complex melodies - in most of the shorter cues, the melody utilizes the entire length of the cue to develop, never repeating its thematic material due to the brevity of the piece.  Consequentially, The Contender contains several of the longest melody lines to appear recently in film music.

8. The Speech (2:50)
Much like "The Real Story," "The Speech" develops the main theme into a grandiose, nationalistic anthem, demonstrating the extreme poignancy of the melody by embedding it into a collection of gargantuan brass chorales.

9. Nobody's Business (1:15)
Continuing the expansion of the main theme, this cue begins with an ominous, Herrmannesque minor key string theme, followed by a creative orchestration of the theme, voiced in low brass and celli.

10. The Deposition (:56)
Continuing the surreal, ominous nature of several other cues, this brief ode presents an undulating, nearly dissonant string line.

11. The Portrait Room (2:13)
Returning to the bucolic brand of Americana found in several of the earlier tracks, "The Portrait Room" contains a collection of typical string and brass melodies.

12. Will's Story (1:57)
The Contender's final underscore track remains subdued, presenting a minimalistic, minor-key passage for dense strings and vibraphone.

13. End Title: The Chapel of Democracy (3:14)
Easily the best presentation of the theme, Groupe's end credits present every facet of the melody line in a tremendously orchestrated concert suite, serving as the apotheosis of his innate melodic sense.

In the end, simplicity proves to be a virtue for The Contender, masking ingenuity into a collection of short, straightforward cues that manage to transcend the typically banal cliché of Americana, instead presenting a remarkably poignant and touching theme that functions as one of the best of the year.

The Contender: The Final Score
Music Rating 7/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 6/10
Sound Quality 9/10
Length 9/10
Orchestral Performance 8/10

The Contender/Deterrence is Copyright 2000 by Citadel Records.  Review Copyright 2000 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.

Go to the review.