"In Country" (1989)
Intrada Special Collection Vol. 230
17 Tracks/Disc Time: 51:31
During the late 70's and all throughout the 80's, Hollywood had a major fascination with the Vietnam War. Beginning with Oscar Winners, The Deer Hunter and Platoon, soon all of the major studios were looking for scripts or novels that tied the war to both stories of personal struggles and the reajdustment to normal everyday civillian life for these former soldiers as well as the remembrance of those soldiers lost during the war. You also saw films such as Rambo: First Blood Part 2, Uncommon Valor, and Missing In Action that were the total opposite end of the spectrum which were about the rescue of missing soldiers that painted the war as a violent, video game at times. By 1989, three films based on Vietnam experiences were released, Brian DePalma's seminal and harsh look behind the lines in Casualties of War, Oliver Stone's brilliant Born On The Fourth of July, which still features Tom Cruise's greatest performance to date and then there's the seemingly forgotten Norman Jewison film, In Country, which was based on the novel by Bobbie Ann Mason and has always been overshadowed by those two films. The film is a poignant story that revolves around Samantha Hughes (Emily Lloyd, Wish You Were Here), a Kentucky teenage girl who's father died during the Vietnam war and whom had never seen or met. She lives with her Uncle Emmitt Smith (Bruce Willis) who hangs around with his friends Tom, Earl, and Pete, three other Vietnam vets who like himself all have problems of one kind or another that relate or come to grips with their war experiences. She soon becomes obsessed about her father's experiences and reads her father's diary, she then begins to understand what his life and death meant. Finally, she and Emmett take a trip to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial where they both come to terms with the war in their own lives.
The film unfortunately was not a hit at the box office, but still a strong and special film that most critics did like and had become a popular film on video and on DVD where it was rediscovered. Which takes us to this soundtrack review and hopefully another rediscovery from Academy Award winner James Horner. Horner was the wonderkind of Hollywood during the early 80's making a major splash with hit films such as 48 Hours, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, Uncommon Valor and later on, Aliens, Red Heat and Willow. He had also been going through a transitional phase which he used more soloists and shyed away from the romantic orchestrial style that brought him to the top. In Country, fortunately was a purely traditional orchestrial score that is very low key and poignant like the film itself. Tender piano and strings dominate the score that seem much like a set up for his popular Oscar nominated score for Field of Dreams that same year.
"Distant Memories" starts off with a military motif featuring a solo trumpet by Malcolm McNabb, leading into Horner's pensive, and tender string material vagely reminiscent of his main theme for "Uncommon Valor", only more developed and poignant than one featured throughout that score. Horner perfectly underscores the thoughts of Samantha and her longing to find out about her father's story ("Dwayne's Letters", "Faraway Thoughts", "Finding Photo", "The Letter Home", "Three Generations"), all sweet and at times, saccarine tracks that ironically do enjoy when Horner does do them and in particular Faraway Thoughts, which is my favorite on this album. The side of Vietnam and Samantha's father's hell is recaptured perfectly in "In Country", which underscores a flashback scene in the film featuring a Japanese Shakuahachi flute during the battle sequence and brought back later in "Emmitt". The album's masterful tracks and highlights of this fine album are "The Vietnam Memorial" and "Fallen Friends", which really show how masterful Horner is as a composer. Sweeping themes, beautiful orchestrations and subtle delicacy, have always been the reason why a soundtrack album has been long overdue for this score.
In fact, Horner had prepared a 39 minute LP/CD album presentation during the time of the film which due to the failure at box office didn't materialize. Intrada's album does replicate Horner's original intended album which plays exceptionally well and is followed by the score's remaining material. Most will have trouble liking this score due to its repetitive nature and its' been there and done that Horner mentality. While I agree with that slightly, I still think this is one of Horner's better and undervalued scores in a career filled with alot of memorable ones. Sure In Country is no Titanic or Field of Dreams, but still it is a score in his filmography that does warrant attention and Intrada's release of this album not only fills a hole, but also a score worth rediscovering especially for the composer's fans. Recommended.