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Soundtrack review: Carter Burwell's 'True Grit'

January 4, 2011 |  6:00 am

True-grit_240_ Carter Burwell’s long been a Coen brothers collaborator, and his evocative, moody and subtly atmospheric scores for the enigmatic filmmakers have essentially been ignored by Oscar voters. The same fate awaits “True Grit,” which has already been disqualified for Oscar contention, as portions of Burwell’s work contain re-interpretations of 19th century Protestant hymns.

A shame, as Burwell’s work on “True Grit” is some of his grandest to date. Eschewing the traditional brassy triumphs that mark many a western score, Burwell opts to focus instead on lovely, albeit slightly sorrowful, piano arrangements. It allows for “True Grit” to work equally well for big-screen vistas and solitary contemplation.

Though the Nonesuch score is largely a collection of orchestral fragments, it’s not a jolting set. The temper is downbeat, a musical universe in which a slight pat of a tom-tom drum is menacing. Yet even at its most damning, Burwell casually circles back to strings that provide an emotional lift and a piano that longs to be adorned with a symphony. It’s music for after the adventure, when reflection and loss play a larger role.

— Todd Martens

Carter Burwell
“True Grit”
Three stars