Music composed by Alexandre Desplat

Label: RCA Red Seal
Catalog: 82876-76121-2
Year: 2005

1. Syriana
2. Driving in Geneva
3. Fields of Oil
4. The Commute
5. Beirut Taxi
6. Something Really Cool
7. Syriana (Piano Solo)
8. I'll Walk Around
9. Access Denied
10. Electricity
11. Falcons
12. Abduction
13. Tortured
14. Take the Target Out
15. Truce
16. Mirage
17. Fathers and Sons
Total Time: 45:54

Reviewed by
Jorge Saldanha


Syriana, a geopolitical thriller based on a novel by Robert Baer, was directed and written by Stephen Gaghan, the Oscar-winner writer of Traffic. Given the similarities between both films, it wouldn't have been a surprise to see Traffic's Cliff Martinez return to score Syriana. But Gaghan hired the French composer Alexandre Desplat. After having scoring over 60 films in France, in a short amount of time beginning few years ago with Girl with a Pearl Earring, that earned him a Golden Globe nomination, Alexandre Desplat developed a solid career in Hollywood - with seven films featuring his music only in 2005.

With a new Golden Globe nomination for Best Score, Syriana joins Birth and Hostage as the composer's most widely recognized works. These films are not the usual blockbusters though, and share some musical similarities; however Syriana's score sounds much more like Cliff Martinez's ambient music than Desplat's own orchestral efforts. The film dramatizes the international oil industry with multiple storylines, and the composer choose to employ an ensemble consisting of a small string and percussion orchestra, plus piano and Middle Eastern instruments like duduk and ney. The duduk, played by Djivan Gasparyan, is offered in a far more authentic manner than typically heard in American ethnic scores. But like the ney and cello performances, a very subtle mix is used to incorporate the instrument to the soundtrack.

Desplat's intention was to restrain his music to create a nuance score that avoids overpowering the emotional tales of the characters - in other words, to not compete with the drama of their situations. Consequently, Desplat's two notes title theme is restrained and sad, developed mainly on strings and piano ("Syriana (piano solo)", "Falcons", "Fathers and Sons"). The album offers it's most active rhythmic cue near its opening, with "Driving in Geneva", that features a repetitive, hipnotic electric bass, or other synthetic equivalent. A highlight of this track is the piano on top of a magnificent scherzo.

Desplat uses the ostinato as his approach to the violence, makes a threatening use of the timbals ("Ill Walk Around ", "Truce"), introduces an attractive Arabic percussion in the energetic "Beirut Taxi" and explores two motifs in "The Abduction", closed by an intense and wild orquestal chaos. However, despite all these efforts Syriana is not an easy listening experience. On disc its minimalistic, cold and sometimes its impermeable or dense structure,
isolated from the images, fails to express the suspense or intrigue typical for this kind of thriller.

With its low key approach, Syriana is not the kind of score that you will listen very often. Although to be a unique work in comparison to today's Hollywood mainstream production (and this can be considered a quality), at least for me its a difficult score to appreciate.