Latest reviews of new albums:
The Homesman
  • Composed by Marco Beltrami
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2014 / 46m

Tommy Lee Jones’s fourth movie as director, The Homesman is a western in which he stars as a drifter taken on to accompany a woman (Hillary Swank) who has to transport three mentally ill women back east for treatment.  Concentrating on examining our helplessness against the vastness of nature, the film has attracted much praise, and the acclaimed actor seems to be emerging as a director of some note.  He has certainly enjoyed the experience of working with Marco Beltrami, who wrote one of his finest scores for Jones’s The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and has written another of them for The Homesman.  It is very deliberately conceived to be at one with the landscape – at times brutal, at others harsh, sometimes flat, sometimes undulating, occasionally exceptionally beautiful – and always multi-faceted, always interesting.  Such was the composer’s desire to achieve this, he even went outside and recorded some of the music in the great outdoors; he speaks of it very sincerely and thinks he captured a sound he couldn’t have achieved from any kind of electronic manipulation, and I suppose it might be the placebo effect but there is an undoubted earthy quality to it all which makes it rather distinctive.

There’s a beautiful main theme, eloquently understated and speaking of decency but with a certain austerity to it which underlines the challenges of life.  It’s one of the most impressive melodies I’ve heard from this composer, and while it doesn’t appear all that often, it is the heart and soul of the score, developed in interesting ways and always moving (in both senses of the word).  Elsewhere there’s the harshness of clanking percussion, jagged and unforgiving; and a kind of bucolic musique concrète from swirling winds seemingly blowing across an endless plain, disturbing dirt and exposing devastation as they go – not easy listening, not by any means, but thoughtful and calmly fascinating.  Occasional wafts of the saloon join in, often for just a few bars, their brief appearances always done entirely naturally.  The Homesman doesn’t reach out and grab you – rather it draws you near then wraps itself around you, enveloping you in its apparently infinite grasp.  It’s seriously good, losing a mark only because parts of it are so effective in their quiet brutality that they are just edging towards being genuine unpleasant to listen to; but I think that’s the whole point – the rough with the smooth.  It’s great to hear a composer as talented as Beltrami be allowed by a literate director to be creative and do his own thing.  Highly recommended.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Jockolantern (Reply) on Friday 21 November, 2014 at 17:44

    One of my most anticipated releases during this latter half of 2014 and your review has me all the more excited to hear it. Thank you for that, James! I’ve admired Beltrami for several scores since the late 90s/early 2000s but Marco has grown to impress me more and more with each passing year as late and I hope for our sake as film score fans that he’s just getting warmed up.

  2. Chris Avis (Reply) on Monday 24 November, 2014 at 02:59

    I downloaded the album on the strength of your review. It’s one of my favorite scores that Beltrami’s written and in my top 5 scores of the year. There is a real quiet, understated beauty about this one. Strongly recommended.