It seems somehow ironic that the subject of this film is the very thing that sinks it. Not only does it feature Kevin Costner doing some fine acting, along with an equally impressive and very young Elijah Wood (he of the Bagginses), but it has all the ingredients for a lovely movie about small town life and the way kids interact. However, Costner's Vietnam veteran is against violence after the horrors of war and so opposes any kind of physical action to prevent his kids being bullied. The result is a film that becomes almost intolerably preachy, far too often. A shame really. A cynical reviewer of the film suggested that the selection of period songs were inspired by their use and popularity on disc in Forrest Gump, quite possibly true, but they are a good selection and thoughtfully programmed together so as not to interrupt Thomas Newman's often lovely score.
The War is one of those Newman scores that mixes warm and gentle strings with his more austere and inventive side. The main theme, as featured in the Main Title is a pleasing string tune, not one of his most memorable, but quite lovely, along the same lines as The Shawshank Redemption or Little Women, although rather more delicate; Newman seems almost too careful to ensure his melody isn't too intrusive. As with his earlier score to Fried Green Tomatoes for director Jon Avnet, Newman briefly employs a female vocalist (Yvonne Williams) who hums engagingly over the opening track, Juliette. Williams' appearance is disappointingly fleeting, only recurring for the final track, Angel Pen. A good number of less traditional instrumentalists are used elsewhere to typically unusual effect, notably a didgeridoo, something that sounds like a deeper version of a banjo (ideal for the hill billy family that Costner and his family are forced to deal with) and a variety of other curious instruments, unfortunately not mentioned in the liner note credits and difficult to determine by ear.
The aforementioned Angel Pen makes for a wonderfully cathartic finale cue as Newman brings his main theme back to the fore in counterpoint to Williams' vocals, a very memorable way to conclude. However, the handful of more melodic cues rather overshadow the more eclectic and more inventive cues, many of which won't be to everyone's taste. They aren't entirely unpalatable, but are certainly harder to enjoy. Newman clearly wanted a striking contrast between the noble sentiments of the protagonist and some more regionally influenced, but rather non-melodic ideas for Junkyard Billy and his clan. It could be argued that it makes the score a little uneven, but the transitions are surprisingly smooth, even if the result is a score that really comes to life during the orchestral sequences and will likely leave most listeners wanting more of that and a little less in the way of didgeridoos and banjos.