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A Civil Action
A Civil Action (1998)
Music Composed by Danny Elfman
Orchestrations and Choir Conducted by Steve Bartek
Orchestra Conducted by Artie Kane and Daniel Carlin Jr.
Additional Orchestrations by Edgardo Simone
Recorded and Mixed by Shawn Murphy
Album Produced by Danny Elfman and Ellen Segal

Label (Catalogue): Hollywood Records, (HR-62158-2)
Availability: Out-of-print
Purchasing options: Check secondary market at

"Pretty much any sound you hear in any of my scores, that isn't traditional orchestral instruments, is coming from my own performance... A Civil Action, all of the marimbas, all of the glass, lots of peculiar little instruments and organ type sounds, synth work is mine. In Instinct it's like a plethora of all of the xylophones, marimbas, thumb pianos and African instruments and drums. That's all my own stuff." - Danny Elfman *

(Original '98 review by John Mullin) I got A Civil Action on Tuesday. It's about 47 minutes long and it seems to contain a good deal of music that I don't remember being in the film including an apparent main titles track called "Civil Theme" and an occasional bluesy gospel thing (hence the B3 organ that turned up in the film from time to time).

All and all, I'm not really sure what my reaction to it is yet. I think it's kind of frustrating that there's never a catchy main theme to bind the album together. It almost seems to be going in a few different directions at once. Every time something interesting comes up (like the gospel thing which is best heard about 2 and a half minutes into track 22), it never sticks around for very long. There are three or four little motifs that are repeated throughout the score, but most of them are pretty short and kind of difficult to remember.

The most distinctive sort-of theme for me is the swanky "Walkin'" music which shows up repeatedly throughout the album, presumably as Travolta is explaining the ins and outs of being a lawyer. An electric guitar can be heard much more prominently on the CD than it could in the film, and Elfman's usual electric bass and percussive tinkerings are back in this score. Honestly, however, I think the best (and most effective) parts of the album are cues like "Why?" and "The Letter" which abandon the electric bass and the weird synth stuff and tell the story with orchestra and choir. The synth overlay and the b3 organ help to establish Travolta as a scheister, but they come off as being kind of distracting after a while.

Something odd happens about half-way through the album--most, if not all, of the snyth overlay kind of dissapears, and the rest of the score is driven by choir and orchestra. The shift happens at "Why?" and continues through most of the rest of album. Maybe with this, Elfman was trying to show Travolta's shift from being a lawyer to actually caring about the families he's been hired by. All the synth and the busy, seemingly theme-less passages are there to paint an image of Travolta's life and ideals as a lawyer. Every once in a while, we hear kind of a snythy choir thrown in as sweetening, maybe to represent the insincere compassion that he's always talking about. All of that kind of drops off half way through the album and something a lot more pure and dignified-sounding takes over. The 'synthy' choir that was there before, is replaced by one that sounds more live and heartfelt. The rest of the music is mostly orchestral, except for a brief excursion to the "Harvard Club" where Travolta has to kiss Sydney Pollack's ass to arrive at a settlement.

I'm liking the music the more I listen to it, but it's not a score that I loved instantly. I think that Elfman does his best work on fantasy and science-fiction movies. A Civil Action did not inspire my imagination right away like the best of Elfman's music has done in the past.  The film is being described by the critcs as an anti-drama, and I think that Elfman wrote a score that was pretty restrained to fit within that standard.

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Click for enlarged CD artwork
Click cover to enlarge
01. Walkin' (1:28)
02. Civil Theme (2:40)
03. The River (3:07)
04. And This... (1:06)
05. First Landing (1:15)
06. Something To Prove (1:20)
07. Bills, Bills, Bills (1:00)
08. Water #1 (2:03)
09. Trial (2:45)
10. Walkin' Reprise (1:32)
11. Objections (2:18)
12. Why? (3:23)
13. Going Down (1:27)
14. 20 Bucks (1:48)
15. The Creep Up (0:56)
16. Off The Hook (1:18)
17. Harvard Club (1:06)
18. Water #2 (2:13)
19. Night Work (2:51)
20. The Letter (3:25)
21. At Last (1:30)
22. End Credit Suite (6:19)

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