Composer of the month The expendables month

Soundtrack review: Man on fire (Harry Gregson Williams – 2004)

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There was a time some 10 years ago when Harry Gregson Williams was in a state of grace writing music for the movies of the Scott brothers. He was the original Hans Zimmer apprentice and this was before he was settling for more generic action music like he does now. Back then he wrote three scores which are among my favorites: one for Ridley Scott (“Kingdom of heaven”) and two for the late Tony Scott (“Spy Game” and “Man on fire”). This review is for the most amazing movie / score combination from the many for the team of Tony Scott / Denzel Washington / Harry Gregson Williams. This review is part of “The expendables” month because of Mickey Rourke’s part in it.

“Man on fire” is still one of my favorite movies. The intensity, the emotions and the way it was directed, filmed and played make it a classic. I remember watching it in the theater and when the lights came up once it was over there were a lot of people crying around me. I have rarely seen a movie touch so many. Denzel’s relationship with the amazing Dakota Fanning and his emotional farewell had gotten to everyone. This is one of the best and most emotional revenge movies you’ll ever see.

I went home and listened to the score for hours. I was still in awe of Harry Gregson Williams for his work on “Spy game” and when I heard this one as well I was sure he could do no wrong. And Lisa Gerrard…Everything she puts her voice on is blissful. There’s no other voice that can pierce my heart as deeply as she can.

This score is a collection of emotions and a string of deep intense moments. Most of the cues are short and play just like sharp flashes of memories which instantly cause you intense pain, intense sorrow or make you tear up because of the joy and love you feel in that particular moment. “Smiling” is not even a minutes long but it gets me emotional every time…I remember the scene when Pita was breaking through Creasy’s tough exterior and she caught him smiling. She kept telling him that he was smiling and he kept denying it until he finally smiled once again and that was the moment their bond became indestructible. Harry Gregson Williams used a few sweet piano notes to make us feel just what Denzel’s character was feeling in those moments.

“You betrayed me” is another cue I could listen to for hours at a time. I can just get lost in it and feel it just as part of my as my own breath. It is a soft and haunting motif for the scene where the girl’s mother finds out her husband was involved in the kidnapping. It builds up from a few piano notes just like the uncontrollable rage builds up inside her from the first flash until the point where she cannot forgive him anymore. You can hear the drops of hatred leaking form this track in the form of piano strokes.

When the score is not emotional, the electronic pulses take over and accompany the on screen actions. These pulses are still short and this keeps them interesting and engaging. The music in constructed just like the movie is filmed: I flashes put together like puzzle pieces. Each theme reminds me of the scene it was written for…I know hoe Pita’s room sounds; I know how the crime scene feels and I know how the little girl’s sorrow hurts.

The music changes mood and construction once the climax of the movie. The tracks are long now (23 minutes for the final 4 tracks) and just when I thought I was drained of emotion from the previous parts, Lisa Gerrard starts singing and she breaks what was left of my heart. “The end” is a 9 minute long epilogue and Lisa dominates it. I close my eyes and see the bridge, see the distinctive cinematography of the movie, see Denzel’s facial expressions and how he owns the part and I get all emotional again. Harry Gregson Williams combines his sounds and motifs just like the imagines paste together…there’s Pita’s theme, there are the electronic pulses, there’s Lisa’s divine voice and all of them together take us inside Creasy’s sound during those final moments

The music of “Man on fire” is not just Harry Gregson Williams though…The movie wouldn’t have been complete without the Spanish songs (“Una palabra” and “Angel vengador”) which are heartbreaking guitar melodies and without the efficient use of inserts from Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails for Creasy’s suicidal nightmares. Hans Zimmer did the same in “The fan” and it worked then just as well.

“Man on fire” is still one of my favorite scores and has a very special place in my heart.

Cue rating: 93 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 31 / 51

Album excellence: 61%

Highlights:

Main Title

Taxi

El Paso

Creasy`s Room

Pita`s Sorrow

Bullet Tells The Truth

Smiling

No Mariachi

You Betrayed Me

The Crime Scene

Pita`s Room

La Nina

Creasy`s Art Is Death

The Voice

The end

 

About the author

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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