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The Devil’s Own
  • Composed by James Horner
  • Beyond Music / 47m

Alan J. Pakula’s final movie, The Devil’s Own certainly has a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera (Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt star and Gordon Willis, also making his swansong, is the cinematographer). But it’s a fairly routine thriller set against the backdrop of the Irish troubles and was fairly quickly forgotten.

James Horner didn’t need asking twice to score anything that would give him an opportunity to write some of his beloved Celtic music, however tenuous the link – and on this occasion the link wasn’t tenuous at all. So, out came all the traditional Irish instruments (like the shakuhachi flute) but this is a long way from Braveheart or Titanic.

James Horner

The score’s opening and closing pieces heavily incorporate a song performed by Sara Clancy, “There Are Flowers Growing Upon the Hill”, which is really lovely, Horner gives it lilting accompaniment from a small orchestra and soloists – I’ve always assumed it is a traditional folk song melody but my extensive research (Google) suggest it is not, at least not with these lyrics.

The score’s best piece is the excellent “The New World”, a romantic and prototypical Horner piece for traditional orchestra – it doesn’t go big but does have a certain dramatic sweep to it which is very appealing. Elsewhere, there are a couple of very Irish tracks, “Launching the Boat” and “The Pool Hall”, which take the song melody and play on it – they’re much more authentic than the more sanitised Celtic sound Horner would more typically employ, so your tolerance will depend on your fondness for the old diddley-eye.

Elsewhere the score is generally really very low-key indeed – gentle Irish inflections (at their best when vocal) over sombre strings and horns. The best example is “Secrets Untold”, which offers an introspective version of the main theme; I have to say that even for this Horner enthusiast, the Uillean pipes playing over gentle strings do get a little grating after a while elsewhere.

One might have expected some action music à la Patriot Games given Horner’s tendency to reuse ideas for similar movies and we do get a little bit of that, but only a little, near the start of the score. “Rory’s Arrest / Diaz Is Killed” goes there again later on, the cue heavily dominated by a keyboard sound that’s half-ethereal, half-abrasive. There are some tense rumblings underneath it at times, and that trademark shakuhachi (which makes it also resemble the composer’s second Jack Ryan score), but it is only when a driving beat arrives for the last minute or so of the cue that it gets going enough to make you take notice. The finale, “The Mortal Blow”, does go a bit bigger and offers some of the score’s biggest thematic statements along with some familiar action/suspense moments, but somehow I find it curiously unsatisfying.

There are some quite distinctive elements of The Devil’s Own which make it of interest to Horner collectors, but frankly most of it consists of techniques that he demonstrated much more impressively in other scores and the result is an album which would be near the bottom of the list for one of my favourite film composers. His restrained approach may have been fine for the film but the resulting album is unusually dull.

Rating: **

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  1. K.A (Reply) on Thursday 28 May, 2020 at 05:43

    I’m so glad you’re doing the Horner odyssey again. I’m curious about your thoughts on Enemy at the Gates.