Reading the liner notes on the inside of the Reservation Road soundtrack, you get the idea that director Terry George has gone a little overboard in his praise for Mark Isham’s work. “…a score that not just supports this drama but becomes a character all of its own: whispering emotions, running along empty roads, falling with autumn leaves on gentle Connecticut shores.” “Right,” you think, “How biased is the director?” But then you listen to the CD and to your surprise discover that Terry George is not just right, but has, in fact, put it lightly.

How rare is it that a soundtrack truly embodies the atmosphere and story of a film to such a degree that it is utterly thrilling on its own? Jon Brion did it with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Gustavo Santaolalla did it with Brokeback Mountain… and now Mark Isham has done it with Reservation Road.

Musically encapsulating the piercing drama and emotion of such an intense story as Reservation Road, based on the 1998 novel of the same name by John Burnham Schwartz, Isham faces the same risk that the actors are up against; the risk of succumbing to the overly melodramatic or indulging in the overtly emotive. What Isham manages, though, is to steer clear of the safe, simple path and instead give us an incredibly forceful and dynamic rendering of the story through music.

Traversing the length of the film, from the unfortunate accident on Reservation Road that begins the story’s downward spiral, through the pains of loss, obsesion, blame, revenge and forgiveness that are the central themes of the film, Isham explores all aspects of the characters and their feelings. The sounds of encroaching danger and pain felt in “Accident”, the second track, are some of the most heightened and physically powerful musical expressions in recent memory. And the slight wind sounds preluding the track “Confession Failed” alude to more than simple regret and dismay and border on exploring the depths of pain that the character is feeling at that moment.

Whether or not you’ve read the book or seen the movie, Reservation Road is an exceptional soundtrack that works on its own as a musical adaptation of a stirring novel.  Mark Isham has scored such films as A River Runs Through It (for which he received an Oscar nomination), Life As a House and the recent In the Valley of Elah. Soundtracks like this one show why he remains such a sought after composer.

Zach’s Rating: A
Perfect For: A glass of wine, a back porch and something to ponder
Stay Away If: You’re looking for an upbeat distraction

To purchase the soundtrack to Reservation Road, visit Amazon

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