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Soundtrack review: Captain Phillips (Henry Jackman, 2013)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Captain Phillips (Henry Jackman, 2013)


Captain Phillips is the (true) story of the captain of an American ship kidnapped by Somali pirates a few years ago. The premise, though interesting, might have lead people to believe the movie was going to be a little boring and still.  I had faith in the director though, since I knew Paul Greengrass had done quite a few awesome action movies in the past few years (including the Bourne trilogy). My faith was rewarded.
After working with John Powell for most of his movies, Greengrass had Henry Jackman score this one. He remained in the Zimmer camp, and the choice proved to be right. I was a fan of Jackman’s after “X-men: First class” and couldn’t wait for this one. It got me hooked even from the cinema; it was more than just a companion for the movie.  “Captain Phillips” moves at an insane pace and keeps the viewer on the edge of his seat for the whole two hours, without a break. It’s an excellent thriller: frantic, exciting, and full of suspense. The music is like an extra adrenaline rush, making every scene even harder to sit through. If you heart wasn’t already at 180 BPMs because of the action and emotions on screen, the score certainly brings it there and over, with its intense rhythm, with the non-stop African tribal beats, with the raw, screeching strings and the unstoppable rush.
The sound is very exotic and ethnic, and it’s a joy to my ears. Jackman didn’t actually use African instruments; he used Western instruments in a way they haven’t been used before. He and the cellist he worked with (who had studied in Africa for some time) just misused the cello anyway they could, and came up with sounds no other cello had made until then. The result is marvelous. The sound is broken, ambiguous, but addictive and exhilarating.
It’s hard to single out cues from this score, because the composition flows so well, because it’s nonstop thrills, but I must say my pulse went highest during “Two in the water” and “Seals inbound”. I thought my heart was going to explode. I held my breath almost for the duration of the movie, and listening to the score brings back those feelings.
And when I was finally able the breathe, relieved, because everything turned out fine and the captain was saved, came the crown jewel of this score, “Safe now”. I was in the theater and couldn’t believe my ears: it was like I was listening to Hans Zimmer’s “Time”, the perfect ending of Inception. This final cue of “Captain Phillips” is almost similar to that, intense and touching, a brilliant change of mood and end to the ordeal.  Comparing a cue to “Time” is one of the highest compliments I can give to a piece of music, so this one is truly exceptional. Life returns to normal for the characters, and the cello returns to its purpose and normal sound.
After being mentored by Hans Zimmer for a long time, Henry Jackman found his identity in the past couple of years, and I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.
My ratings:
Cue ratings: 89 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 36/43
Album excellence: 84%
Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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