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Jack Reacher
  • Composed by Joe Kraemer
  • La-La Land Records / 2013 / 61:13

I’ve read all of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, which are the kind of guilty-pleasure thrillers that are easy to get through and provide some entertainment when you’re not quite in the mood to read something more serious.  The film Jack Reacher is based on the ninth of the 17 novels (so far), “One Shot”, and playing the 6’5″ superman – described at length in the books as a physically-intimidating giant – is the midget Tom Cruise, who would have appeared somewhere in between Joanna Lumley and Dakota Fanning on my “people most likely to play Jack Reacher if they ever make a film of it” list.  I’m beginning to call into question the purpose of all these lists I maintain – they rarely seem to do any good.

It’s an enjoyable film – nothing there to write home about, but it passes the time quite nicely and isn’t as dumb as these things can be.  Cruise does his typically solid job in this type of role and while he may spend most of the film either standing on a box or next to someone who’s standing in a hole, his inappropriate stature is never an issue.  One thing that’s surprisingly classy is the score, by Joe Kraemer.  His most famous previous work is The Way of the Gun, written in 2000 for Christopher McQuarrie’s film, and McQuarrie is also at the helm of Jack Reacher; perhaps this time the score might attract enough attention to get Kraemer a few other bigger gigs in future.

Joe Kraemer

Joe Kraemer

What’s surprising about it is that it largely eschews the modern approach to most thriller scores (by which I mean fairly anonymous music which gets drowned out by the helicopters and guns) for one which is more in keeping with music by composers like David Shire and Michael Small from those great 1970s thrillers.  Don’t read too much into that – I’m not saying the music sounds like it was written in the 1970s and I’m not saying you’d put the album on and think you were listening to music by Shire or Small – but there’s a vibe to the score and the approach to spotting the film that is certainly in keeping with that general milieu.

One thing that’s particularly striking is that Kraemer chose not to write any score at all for several of the action sequences, which are allowed to play out on their own terms, and concentrated his efforts instead on the more human aspects of the film.  A lot of the music is played in the orchestra’s lowest registers, growling along aggressively without actually striking out.  The theme for Jack Reacher is more of a recurring “idea” than a melody that you will go away humming – he goes for the “lonely guy” feeling, capturing some anger, some hurt, some sorrow but mostly a sense of grit and determination.  One of the finest pieces is the lengthy “Evidence”, with piano-led suspense music leading into the score’s grandest melodic statement, offering one of its few moments of real warmth in the middle section before returning to suspense for the final third, but it’s a different kind of suspense this time, one borne of mystery rather than fear.  Drama levels are raised considerably as the score nears its conclusion, beginning with the strained desperation of “Helen in Jeopardy”.  Perhaps the finest track of all is the 7:25 end title, summarising the score’s main ideas in striking fashion.

This is an impressive score, intelligently-written and while it lacks crash-bang-wallop thrills, that’s perhaps what makes it even more entertaining.  La-La Land’s CD release includes an excellent bonus track, “Prisoner Human Being”, which should rightfully be placed immediately before the end titles; the iTunes release doesn’t feature that cue but does have “Suite from Jack Reacher”, which I believe consists of edited-together music heard elsewhere on the album.  Kraemer’s music is taut and well-constructed; I hope the exposure of working on a high-profile film (and delivering a fine score) leads to bigger assignments ahead for the obviously-talented composer.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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  1. ddueck (Reply) on Thursday 24 January, 2013 at 20:56

    Surprisingly enjoyable movie and a solid score. Great review James!

  2. Kalman (Reply) on Friday 25 January, 2013 at 16:42

    I don’t know how the music sounds independently from the movie but in the film it is absolutely great. It enhances the scenes and adds a general feeling of tension. I liked it – and the movie too.

  3. André - Cape Town. (Reply) on Sunday 27 January, 2013 at 10:17

    “Functional music – but so dreary” was my reaction while viewing the movie. I enjoyed Tom Cruise’s character > the loner/ hero with empathy for humanity in the 21st Cenury – ‘look at them,they all live in prisons.’ Yet, he’s self-sufficient, disregarding the cell-phones, credit cards, & fast cars that other screen heroes regard as de rigueur. He deserved a memorable, emotive theme. The films assortment of characters from low-lifes to corrupt officials to prostitutes should have inspired music that compared with the scores of Bernstein, North, Goldsmith & even Schifrin when they effortlessly tackled similar scenarios. If JOE KRAEMER’s credit with this film is going to bring him future contracts, he needs to familiarise himself with – and hopefully become inspired by – the magnificent compositions of Cinema’s premier icons.

  4. Brad (Reply) on Sunday 17 February, 2013 at 13:59

    More film scores at

  5. mastadge (Reply) on Sunday 17 February, 2013 at 18:05

    Glad to say that I disagree with André here — I really enjoy this score. I can’t listen to it in the car — too much is lost to road noise — but through my headphones it’s a rich, entertaining thriller score that has inspired me to revisit Kraemer’s earlier work as well. Very impressive stuff.