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Thank You For Your Service
  • Composed by Thomas Newman
  • Sony Classical / 2017 / 35m

Thank You For Your Service is based on David Finkel’s book about soldiers returning home from the Iraq war and how they cope with integrating back into civilian life, and in particular their battles with PTSD.  Directed by Jason Hall, making his debut (his past screenplay credits include American Sniper) and with an ensemble cast led by Miles Teller, the film has been met with a very positive critical response, its delicate handling of very difficult subject matter being praised in particular.

The brilliant Thomas Newman makes a return to the type of serious fayre which has dominated much of his career, after a few lighter projects, and offers just the kind of score you’ll probably expect if you’re familiar with his work.  While capable of the most astonishingly beautiful melodies and grand orchestral gestures, he’s always been more likely to treat this sort of project in a much more intimate, perhaps even insular way, emphasising textures and careful creation of mood over anything else (including melody).

Thomas Newman

Indeed, the opening cue “Kansas River” is essentially just an unpleasant-by-design pulsating electronic throb lasting for a minute or so; but the following “Jax” does offer some more pleasant material, a small acoustic ensemble heard now, led by guitar and one of the composer’s trademark winds.  That turns out to be something of a false dawn because we’re quickly back into dark territory, where we remain for much of the score.

It’s not all quite like the abrasive tone of the first cue – there’s a string orchestra which makes its first appearance in “11 Months 19 Days” and Newman is cleverly wringing an emotion from the music here – it’s a dark emotion, sorrowful and hurt, but nobody could deny its effectiveness.  Two tracks later is the nails-on-a-chalkboard style “April 28” which is When he offers a lighter piece in contrast – as he does in the outstanding “Gunmetal Clatter” in between those two – it is all the more effective as a result.

There’s a surprising touch of new age electronica late in “I Can Still Taste His Blood” (at 2:52, the album’s longest track) which again is dark but it’s handled well (and certainly something different for this composer) but it sits amongst a whole series of anguished, unsettling pieces with the stark, sparse electronics augmented by a small orchestra at times and the usual Newman soloists at others, melody largely absent. The finale “Dog Tag” offers some of that – it’s a melancholic piece, beautiful in its own way, certainly the album’s most appealing piece.

Thomas Newman’s one of my favourite film composers but he does sometimes throw out these very challenging scores that are rather an acquired taste and Thank You For Your Service certainly falls into that category.  The Newman trademarks are certainly all there but the short album is quite a slog to get through because of how difficult it is.  Given the subject matter of the film, needless to say it is entirely appropriate that it is difficult – indeed, it would be a real shock if a film like this received any other kind of score – but only the most devoted of Newman’s fans are likely to return to this one very often.  Only occasionally does the mood move anywhere away from deep psychological trauma and those little shafts of light are starkly beautiful – they’re also few and far between.

Dark, very challenging drama | |

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