Latest reviews of new albums:
  • Composed by Alexandre Desplat
  • Atlantic Records / 2014 / 61m

The remarkable story of the US Olympian Louie Zamperini, captured by the Japanese during WWII after surviving 47 days on a raft following his plane crashing, Unbroken – directed by Angelina Jolie – seemed a pretty sure thing but has received decidedly mixed reviews and has not turned out to be the Oscar bait it was expected to be.  Alexandre Desplat had an annus mirabilis in 2014, with four scores before this one ranging from excellent to truly exceptional; and even if the film didn’t live up to its potential, I expected the composer to round off the year with another strong showing.  And it is – but only in parts.  At other times, this wonderful (and wonderfully distinctive) composer seems to have been shackled somewhat, providing some of the most “conventional” modern Hollywood film music of his career.  There’s nothing wrong with it, but it fails to be as special as I had hoped.

The first couple of cues do get the album off to a strong start – the restrained nobility of “We Are Here”, with James Horner-style vocals, then the main theme that opens “Torrance Tornado”, uncharacteristically simplistic but rousing enough.  I can’t believe I’m typing this, but there is a very slight hint of the finale from Man of Steel – and somewhat less slight hints of it later on in the score – so much so that I suspect it was probably in the temp track.  You can always tell it’s Desplat (the electronic pulse, for one thing), but it’s somewhat watered down Desplat.  The middle portion of the score is frequently low-key: pleasant piano music, gently rumbling strings, occasional interrupted by excursions into Band of Brothers-style heroism or dirty, gritty percussive action, flashes of Japanese colour.  Somehow it is less than the sum of its parts, just not as compelling as this composer’s music usually is.  It’s not bad, but with a few exceptions it’s not great either.  The score does end on a high, with a terrific version of the main theme in “The Plank” and a rousing finale in “Unbroken”.  With a bit of tight editing there’d be a pretty strong album here; as it is, it’s certainly got its moments and is never bad, its chief problem is simply that it’s just a bit too ordinary, a hamburger from a composer who usually cooks up a fillet steak.

Rating: *** | |

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  1. tiago (Reply) on Monday 19 January, 2015 at 00:52

    I really liked this one. For me, it’s on par with The Imitation Game, and I even think that Unbroken is slightly ahead, mostly because of beautiful cues like Torrance Tornado, Making Gnocchi and The War is Over.

  2. Matt (Reply) on Wednesday 21 January, 2015 at 16:18

    I agree with this review. I saw the film and found the score to be boring and just really average. Jolie said she wanted a more subtle score and Desplat delivered exactly that. I felt like the film lacked the emotional punch I was really wanted and the score was so low key that I didn’t really notice anything special about it.

  3. tiago (Reply) on Thursday 22 January, 2015 at 04:01

    That’s funny, because a lot of film reviews that I read about Unbroken criticizes Desplat’s score, saying that it is too “emotionally manipulative”. Usually, these are the same morons who says that the less music in a film, the better.

    However, on the film music community, a lot of people, like you guys, also criticizes this score for being too subtle and boring.

    Poor Alexandre, doesn’t matter what he does, he still can’t please no one.

    Hahaha, just joking. As I said, I really liked this one. I agree that his music here is more subtle than, say, Godzilla, but it works well. I guess most of the criticism of film critics is because of the scene where (spoiler alert) Mac dies, and the music is a little over the top.

  4. dominique (Reply) on Thursday 22 January, 2015 at 09:48

    just watched it last night…bad movie, boring score!

  5. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Thursday 22 January, 2015 at 11:27

    If THIS is too emotionally manipulative for certain critics then I think they’ll only be happy once they’ve got John Cage’s 4’33” playing over every single film in existence. More “realistic” that way, eh?

  6. TDidz927 (Reply) on Thursday 22 January, 2015 at 13:38

    I liked this. I thought it worked well in the film, but doesn’t hold up as well as an album. I got this and Imitation Game at the same time, and I find myself listening to Imitation much more.