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Soundtrack review: Defiance (James Newton Howard – 2008)

JNH Thursday

Soundtrack review: Defiance (James Newton Howard – 2008)


“Defiance” is a World War II drama about a group of Jewish partisans led by three brothers. It stars Daniel Craig and it was directed by Edward Zwick. Now, whenever I see this name in the director’s box I am ready for a movie with an amazing soundtrack. There’s rarely been a director who has delivered so many epic and magnificent scores from many of the greats: Hans Zimmer (The last samurai), James Horner (Legends of the fall) and James Newton Howard (Blood diamond). It was time again for James Newton Howard for this movie, and this is my review for this week’s “JNH Thursday”.

As if the director and composer weren’t enough, this score features the talents of another artist I am keeping my ears opened for: violinist Joshua Bell, the guy who shined on Hans Zimmer’s “Angels and demons”. And, oh boy, does he shine here as well…When his solos come up I’m thinking that Ytzak Perlman’s wonders from a movie with a similar emotional weight, “Schindler’s list” have nothing on him. Yes, the violin solos on “Defiance” are that amazing. With the subtext of another subtle and poignant composition by James Newton Howard, the cues are tender, heartbreaking and intense.  A good violin always gets to me and when I hear something as beautiful as “Your wife” something drops inside me with a loud thud.

When the violin takes a break we get cues like “The Bielski Otriad” which is as intense and rich as James Newton Howard can get. The love theme “Bella and Zus” is tender and cold in the same time: the composer blends the love with the harsh external conditions.

Still it’s the violin that wins this score. It silences everything else around it and focuses on a single point deep inside you. Just listen to “The wedding” and try not to tear up. With just a few chords, James Newton Howard and Joshua Bell hit us with all the weight and intensity of the story. Watch out for the powerful and deafening end of this theme. This might be my favorite piece from this score.

“Defiance” is another masterpiece from James Newton Howard. There is not a single note in here that doesn’t tell a story you want to hear. Edward Zwick chose right once again and gets another movie with a memorable score. It is also one of the more special and unique James Newton Howard compositions and a must listen not only for his fans but also for those who appreciate gorgeous music.

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 36 / 45

Album excellence: 80%



Make Them Count

Your Wife

The Bielski Otriad

Bella And Zus


Camp Montage

The Wedding

Police Station

Nothing Is Impossible


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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