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Patriot Games
  • Composed by James Horner
  • La-La Land Records / 2013 / 90m (score 67m)

I’m sure most people would pick something else, but I think Patriot Games is the best of the four Jack Ryan movies that have been made so far.  Philip Noyce’s film is a bit silly, but these things tend to be; it’s well-made, well-acted, surprisingly politically-charged for a Hollywood thriller – and, of course, easily the least financially successful of the four.  Harrison Ford was reportedly offered the role of Ryan for The Hunt for Red October but didn’t want to play second fiddle to Sean Connery; and after they gave up trying to persuade Alec Baldwin to come back, Paramount got the man they’d wanted to play character in the first place.

Hot on the heels of Intrada announcing an extended album of his Clear and Present Danger score, La-La Land did the same for James Horner’s Patriot Games.  (Let’s hope somebody has the Basil Poledouris and Jerry Goldsmith scores from the series in the pipeline.)  It’s fair to say that Patriot Games is easily the least popular of the four scores amongst film music fans, but I’ve always found it to be somewhat harshly-judged.  It certainly doesn’t make an easy-listening album – indeed, at times it’s very challenging – but it’s an extremely smart score for the film and works beautifully in context – it’s one of Horner’s more introverted action scores, and considering the flak he often gets for being overbearing it contains a great deal of nuance and no small amount of reward, if you’re willing to make a bit of an investment as a listener.  It’s no forgotten masterpiece, but it’s a better score than its reputation would have you believe and the new album provides a good opportunity for a few people to give it a retrospective reappraisal.

James Horner

The James Horner of the 1990s seemed to find it hard to resist throwing Irish music into whatever film he happened to be scoring, so he must have jumped for joy at the thought of having a real reason for doing it, with this film featuring Irish terrorists as the main antagonists.  But this isn’t the diddly-aye cod Oirish shenanigans of something like Titanic – there’s a sparse beauty to Maggie Boyle’s vocal in the opening and closing title pieces that is quite ethereal in its way (the melody is actually a Gaelic folk tune).  Then in the first action track, “Attempt on the Royals”, Horner contrasts a sparse, surprisingly electronic base with a colourful pennywhistle solo, a device he uses frequently through the score.

Another 90s Horner favourite – with a less obvious Irish connection – also makes an appearance, with the once-ubiquitous shakuhachi flute also cropping up through much of the action material.  The eight-minute “The Hit” is a brilliant piece, the darkness of the electronic textures, shakuhachi and percussion contrasting brilliantly with the occasional pennywhistle solo; dissonant orchestral cacophony is held back for just the right moments, and certainly has impact when it arrives.  It’s dark, dark music and doesn’t provide easy rewards, but it’s not at all difficult to be impressed by how beautifully it’s put together – the technique on show is admirable.  The style returns later on in the eleven-minute “Assault on Ryan’s House”, another challenging masterclass from the composer.  The way Horner builds and then releases the tension shows why he is such an effective film composer; and while the music is far more texture-based than the usual standout orchestral compositions one might expect from him, it’s dramatically just as engaging as ever.  The most traditional of the action tracks is the finale, “Boat Chase”, with the huge orchestra given its hardest workout of the score – the only really easy thrills on offer (and it’s a cracker of a track).

The final Horner favourite on display here is his old standby the adagio from the Gayenne ballet suite by Aram Khachaturian, which he first pilfered for Aliens (and went on to use in Clear and Present Danger).  I won’t go through the same old routine about Horner and his musical kleptomania – it is what it is, and there can’t be many listeners who haven’t made their own minds up by now.  The use of the piece in this score is highly effective – it’s first heard in “CNN News Report” (a track making its debut on the extended release) but it is at its best in “Electronic Battlefield”, where the composer successfully “Hornerfies” the piece and leaves his own distinctive marks all over it.  This album, unlike the original release, includes the fairly subtle synth overlay to the piece as well as the orchestra.  Highlights elsewhere include the suspenseful “Arrest of the Bombers”, the brilliant “Highland’s Execution” which offers a real contrast of colours, and the emotional (if brief) “Hospital Vigil”.

Patriot Games is, as I noted above, a challenging listen.  The sparse sound, particularly to the action music, is conceptually brilliant and works really well in the film, but on album it’s a harder sell.  It certainly falls into the “easy to admire, difficult to love” category – but I do find it to be a rewarding listen and I’m surprised by the negative reaction so many people seem to have towards it.  La-La Land’s album adds about 25 minutes of additional score material and, while there’s nothing spectacular there, it just makes the whole thing more material.  I think it’s a bit odd that they spread it over two discs – the Horner score, including the three alternative versions of tracks, would easily have fit onto one disc, but the non-Horner source music forces it onto a second (with the final three score tracks oddly put onto the second disc even though there’s 35 minutes of space on the first one).  Still, that’s a minor quibble – all the music you would want is here, and there’s no harm done by there being a few source cues that few people are likely to be interested in.  A major selling point besides the music is the great set of liner notes by Jim Lochner, which are well-researched and perceptive.  Yes, it’s challenging music, but I think it’s a challenge worth taking on.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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  1. Matt C. (Reply) on Tuesday 30 July, 2013 at 13:15

    As usual, I agree with your assessment. I never paid much attention to the Milan album, though it’s been in my collection for some time. Now that I have the La-La Land album, with the improved sound and some great additional cues, I really enjoy this Horner score.
    It’s easy to see how Horner was developing the sounds he would later use in Legends of the Fall and The Devil’s Own.
    Patriot Games is a very “authentic” sounding score, imo. One of my favorite cues on the new release is “Sean Obsessing in Jail / Highland Execution”. As you state in your review, it really stands out as a beautiful, yet unsettling piece that brings together all of the score’s elements perfectly.

  2. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Tuesday 30 July, 2013 at 18:03

    I notice that La-La has a bad habit of doing that, leaving the final few tracks as a dangling hangnail on disc 2 despite plenty of space on disc 1. It’s a minor quibble, but one that occasionally leads me to pass up one of their products, like buying Intrada’s Masters of the Universe instead of theirs.

  3. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Wednesday 31 July, 2013 at 11:21

    After reading your +3*s for this thriller, James, I hauled out my Milan CD from the bottom of my copius Horner collection (I’ve been a loyal supporter of his music ever since BRAINSTORM beguiled me, way back). And after two listenings, I’ve returned CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER back to the bottom of the collection. The action music is overworked and repetitively boring…the orchestral colouring is banal, in spite of the film’s locations that surely should have inspired more than that ubiquitous shakauhachi flute that flutters irritatingly on so many cues. Harrison Ford, as the CIA operative isn’t just another psycho killer enjoying the hunt and demise of his victims – he has a conscience and experiences remorse. And Horner’s theme just doesn’t underscore the subtle complexities of this Jack Ryan character. I doubt I’ll listen to this score again – there’s far more superior music out there …. among others, Jerry Goldsmith’s UNDER FIRE and EXTREME PREJUDICE, with those magnificent themes and orchestrations (inspired by geographical locations) that satisfy repeated listenings. And hearing the Milan CD’s overview of the music has convinced me that an expanded version holds no appeal.