- Composed by Patrick Doyle
- Varèse Sarabande / 2014 / 74m
The series of films featuring Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character has been a pretty good one so far – a set of surprisingly superior thrillers (yes, even the one with Ben Affleck in). The latest attempt to inject fresh blood into the series comes in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, with Chris Pine taking on the lead role and a touch of class behind the lens in the form of Kenneth Branagh (who also plays the villain). Reaction to the film has been pretty good, though whether it makes enough money to turn into a series remains to be seen.
With director Branagh comes, of course, composer Patrick Doyle. He has been enjoying something of a resurgence of late, bolstered by Branagh’s own Thor in 2011 (and a further two massive box office successes since then), though it hasn’t all been to the delight of his army of fans, who have not been that keen on a perceived shift towards more modern and simplistic scoring tendencies. But times change, and composers have to move with the times, so I can understand Doyle’s decision, and that shift in style goes further than ever before in Jack Ryan, which at times really does sound like a more classilly-orchestrated Remote Control score.
Even in the opening piece, “Flying Over Afghanistan”, the anthemic theme has a hint of that about it; not long after in “The Window Reflection”, the composer finds himself firmly inside John Powell territory. But here’s the thing: he actually pulls it off really well. Powell’s Bourne style has been hugely influential on film music and even some very major composers have found themselves imitating it; few have been very good at it. Doyle actually makes it work by keeping just enough that’s identifiably him about it – listening carefully reveals it to be an extreme adaptation of his own style rather than a complete abandonment and attempt at writing in someone else’s.
Does it all work? Well, no it doesn’t. This is an extremely long album for a thriller score and at times it doesn’t hold interest – there are too many cues that kind of mumble along with synth pads and drum loops, offering a kind of musical heartbeat to the film but very little to the album listener. But you can take those away and still end up with a decent amount of strong material and more than just a little which is pure, unadulterated Patrick Doyle. Between the two early pieces I’ve already mentioned comes “Shadow Accounts”, with a piano theme of pure class. Then comes the first piece of magnificence: “Faith of Our Fathers”, with its deep Slavic choir leading into a heartmeltingly gorgeous string elegy which is Doyle at his very best.
More delicious piano arrives in “The Activation”, this time leading into some very dark suspense. New and old Doyle come together very effectively in “The Engagement”, an elegant melody line supported with choppy little string phrases and electronic percussion; again he makes it work well. On the other hand, the lengthy “Stealing the Data” doesn’t work so well for me – now there’s a greater reliance on the synths and Powell-style action ostinati and there’s too much of a stop-start feel about it for me. But then in the very next cue (“Get Out”) he takes a similar style and this time it does work. Sorry, I’m not clever enough to explain it.
Pick of the action might be “The Lightbulb”, which isn’t just stylistically similar to the Bourne scores, it’s actually as good as them. The latter third of the album is dominated by similar action pieces – “Chopper to NYC” is another belter – and it all leads up to the score’s pièce de résistance, the sequence that even those who don’t like the rest of the album will surely love. It starts in “Jack and Aleksandr” when a testosterone-fuelled string anthem swells out of nowhere, a shot of heroism which continues through the beautiful “Picking This Life” and then culminates in the fantastic “Ryan, Mr President”, a sweeping, uplifting piece of music – one of those where you keep thinking “this can’t get any bigger” just before it gets bigger.
I’m struggling a little to understand why the early response to this score has seen people get so worked up. Is it vintage Patrick Doyle? Well, one or two parts are, but in general no; but then neither is the material he’s working with quite Henry V or Much Ado About Nothing – it’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, a modern techno thriller, and that’s the film he had to deliver a score for. The biggest flaw is that the album is too long – chop out the duller stuff and you’d have a really strong album. Sadly that didn’t happen, but there’s still more than enough here for any Doyle fan to hang his hat on and some of it’s nothing short of brilliant.
Rating: *** 1/2