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The Debt
  • Composed by Thomas Newman
  • Silva Screen / 2011 / 48:29

A Cold War spy thriller, The Debt sat unreleased for a very long time before finally making its way into cinemas in September 2011, a year after various festival showings.  For a film left on the shelf for so long, it’s been very well-received, director John Madden getting his best reviews since Shakespeare in Love.  Thomas Newman doesn’t score too many films these days, and it’s a little surprising to see an espionage thriller added to his resumé.  Perhaps he is getting some practice in given that his old mate Sam Mendes is directing the next Bond film – but this music, while in many ways the closest this exceptional composer has come to writing a straight action score, is a far cry from that sound or indeed the John Powell style which has become the style of choice for most films of this ilk since the success of the Bourne films.

The album opens well, with typically propulsive, percussive Newmanisms in “Ghost Station” and “How to Die” sandwiching some surprisingly Wall-E-like deft beauty in “Airplane Open”.  “The Surgeon of Birkenau” introduces some brutal, brassy action licks – it’s pretty bleak stuff.  Thereafter Newman relies heavily on electronic textures and layer upon layer of percussion to create a very effective atmosphere of suspense but it’s only in the occasional moments when he releases the tension through more overt action (or reprises those early highlights I mentioned) that the music is particularly enjoyable.  The whole thing is unmistakably Thomas Newman from top to bottom, but it’s still a surprise to hear a score like this from him – there are enough highlights to make it a recommended purchase for his fans, but equally times when it sounds like he’s treading water.  ***

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