As noted in my review of Howard's score to Dreamcatcher, sometimes even the best composers can be caught up in genre conventions and unable to break free to produce something special. So it is with The Interpreter, a thriller about overheard conversations, assassinations and, erm, interpreters (at the UN), starring the ever wonderful Nicole Kidman as the titular character (as it were) and Sean Penn as her protector (and not the capital of Cambodia). From its mumbling start, The Interpreter takes rather a long time to get going and starting with an eight and a half minute track of not much - the burnished tones of Malcolm MacNab's trumpet a splendid exception. This is not a score that hits the ground running.
Although ostensibly set in the UN, the film's African connections are tangentially hinted at, notably by the inclusion the Traditional Atolago, performed by Kirsten Braten Berg. However, its appearance is brief and somewhat perfunctory and emphasizes how unfortunate it is that a little more isn't found elsewhere. Although largely suspenseful, Howard introduces a couple of action licks, notably the hugely unpromising sounding Guy Forgot His Lunch, which isn't perhaps an especially original mix of electronic percussion and strings, but is well crafted and thankfully quite transparent in texture. Indeed, from that point, the variety increases somewhat, with a few highlights such as the low key, but lovely Did He Leave a Note? The score also picks up a little momentum, although some might rather feel that once you've heard one lightly percussive action cue, you've heard them all even if, to his credit, Howard provides just enough variation on the formula.
General commentary on the album has been surprisingly positive, but for my money, The Interpreter is a resolutely professional, but rather run of the mill effort from Howard. There is little intrinsically wrong with it and (although I can't lay claim to having seen it) is undoubtedly ideal for the film, indeed it is almost how I imagined it to be. There is nothing wrong with scores that come out as you expect, but when the expectation is of an album that is more atmosphere than melody and not hugely memorable, then it's disappointing to have that expectation realised. If well crafted, alternately percussive and atmospheric thriller scores are you thing, a solid entry, but there are plentiful more engaging and interesting Howard scores to discover first.