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Soundtrack review: Nightcrawler (James Newton Howard, 2014)

JNH Thursday

Soundtrack review: Nightcrawler (James Newton Howard, 2014)


“Nightcrawler” is a thriller about a driven young man who stumbles upon the underground world of Los Angeles freelance crime journalism. The thriller made me thing of the dark world of “Collateral”, and Jake Gyllenhaall looks very creepy in this movie. James Newton Howard wrote the score, and every time a new score by him is announced, I get very excited; it’s like my birthday is coming up and I’m going to get a great present. There are very few composers I’m so impatiently waiting for new scores from, and he’s at the top of my list.
The first thing I noticed about this score is that the cues are very short. This is a 28 cue score, 51 minutes long, and most of the tracks are under 2 minutes. This got me a little worried, because I prefer longer themes, especially from Newton Howard. The beginning is different than I expected. When I saw the trailer, I though dark and moody score. “Nightcrawler”, “Lou’s inspired” and “Driving at night” actually sound like I’m listening to a Harry Gregson Williams action score of late. They are more upbeat than I expected and the guitar sounds a little generic. “Lorder crashes” is the first cue when I start getting what I came for. It’s dark, deep and creepy. It’s also very lonely. I had trouble finding more interesting tracks on this score. I struggled to get into “Nightcrawler”. Its mood and pace actually reminded me of one of the few James Newton Howard scores I don’t care for, “Michael Clayton”. The same insomniac rhythm, this time with very short cues that are not proper themes, they are just there, like the cars the main characters drive by at night. They came and go and are forgettable. 
I did recognize some traces of James Newton Howard’s usual brilliance, in atmospheric pieces like “Day to night” or “Mount Wilson”. Too little for a score written by my second favorite composer…The end of the score brings the only three longer tracks, all in the vicinity of 4 minutes. “The shootout” is the longest of them, and it finally shows some heart. To say that the title has nothing to do with the music is an understatement. It doesn’t sound anything like a shootout, but I loved this beautiful, atmospheric and almost fairy tale like cue. It’s my favorite piece from this score, and probably the only one I will gladly listen to again.
“Nightcrawler” does its job of setting the mood of the film right, and I’m sure it works fine in context.  The mood was the one thing I got from this score…ominous, insomniac, rushed, with no time to develop real feelings. I guess it matches the main character. As a standalone listen tough, it was a little too generic and it never really took off. And this may be just me, but I don’t really like electric guitar in a James Newton Howard score…
My ratings:
Cue rating: 64 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 14 / 49
Album excellence: 28%
Cues to listen to:
Loder Crashes
Day To Night
Pictures On The Fridge
The First Night
Mount Wilson
The shootout

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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