Latest reviews of new albums:
Gangster Squad
  • Composed by Steve Jablonsky
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2013 / 56:02

Gangster Squad tells the story of the police’s attempts in post-WWII Los Angeles to wrestle control of the city back from mobsters led by the notorious Mickey Cohen.  It’s got quite a cast, led by Sean Penn, but hasn’t been quite the event film that it was probably intended to be when it was greenlit and most reviews have been somewhat lukewarm, comparing it unfavourably with Brian de Palma’s The Untouchables.  It’s fair to say that few people will compare Steve Jablonsky’s score for Gangster Squad with Ennio Morricone’s The Untouchables.  The only thing to really compare it with is other scores by Hans Zimmer’s factory of composers for any other thrillers during the last few years.  Don’t expect anything to suggest this is the music to a period piece – no attempt is made to make it sound like anything other than a contemporary thriller score.  I’m not saying that’s necessarily the wrong approach for a film composer to take, but one of my great dislikes in modern film music is the apparent lack of enthusiasm for providing films with scores that are uniquely theirs; this music could live in any one of dozens of films that will be released in 2013 (and quite possibly will do).

You know the drill – the string ostinati, the guitars, the never-ending percussion – this is a post-Bourne, post-Nolan/Batman action/thriller score.  It’s by Steve Jablonsky, so there are some nods to Thomas Newman, too (I don’t know if Road to Perdition was in the temp-track, but it seems to have been an inspiration somewhere along the line – imagine taking that score, removing its class and charm and throwing a few synths in).  It’s certainly very loud.  The main idea is not without its appeal – “Welcome to Los Angeles” is a pretty gripping contemporary thriller cue – but it’s no “Bloody Christmas” and in any case is stretched very thin over the hour-long album.  Aside from the repeats of the motifs introduced in that piece (the finest being “Hot Potato with a Grenade”, which sounds like The Bourne Ultimatum), much of the rest of the score is like out-takes from one of Zimmer’s scores for Christopher Nolan – it’s pretty hilarious listening to the horns growling in “You Can’t Shoot Me”, not just because they’re recorded so insipidly they sound sampled despite actually being real, but also because it’s exactly the same music as heard in Batman Begins and its sequels.  This is the type of film that can inspire good music (even in more recent times Mark Isham managed to produce the outstanding The Black Dahlia – and a few hints here and there suggest it too may have been in the temp track) but in the creativity-sapped world of Remote Control Productions, that was never very likely, and while the album is far from unlistenable, pretty much all of it sounds like a thin retread of something better – so all it’s likely to do is inspire you to listen to one of those scores instead.

Rating: ** |

Tags: , ,

  1. Felix (Reply) on Monday 21 January, 2013 at 18:46

    My only thought upon listening to this thing was: “Why did I even bother”.
    There might be a decent composer somewhere deep inside Jablonsky, and we’ve seen hints here and there, but it’s buried underneath a mountain of irrelevance and triteness.

  2. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Monday 21 January, 2013 at 22:07

    Agreed. I wonder what Carter Burwell would have provided if he hadn’t been rejected? It may not have been a five star classic, but he always writes interesting music.

  3. André - Cape Town. (Reply) on Thursday 24 January, 2013 at 13:48

    The movie’s music supervisor provided the late ’40s period feel with SOURCE cues> even the campy CARMEN MIRANDA makes a turn at Cohen’s “Slopsy Maxie’s” night club with her ‘Chica Chica Boom Chic’ hit. The recreation of Hollywoodland & Chinatown is superb as are the costumes, make-up & set designs…but the film noir mood needed a genuine film noir score to anchor it to the ’40s and enhance the extortion rackets, drugs & prostitutes and the corrupt judges, cops, mobsters AND heroes – according to the musical dictates of the genré. Has STEVE JABLONSKY never heard of GOLDSMITH, BARRY, MORRICONE or BERNSTEIN ?…is he unaware of their stunning contributions to the noire genré which could have served as a reference point ? What he regretably delivered was a forgetable score lacking depth & atmosphere, instead of a refreshing modern take on those genré standard bearers of Hollywood’s golden & silver ages. JABLONSKY’s music for TRANSFORMERS, GEARS OF WAR & YOUR HIGHNESS are among my favourites and I’d hate to see him succumb to the copycatting you detail in your excellent review James.