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Soundtrack review: Broken horses (John Debney – 2015)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Broken horses (John Debney – 2015)


John Debney is trying to keep up with Lorne Balfe as the composer with most scores out in 2015. This can only be good for us film music lovers because his output so far in 2015 has been stellar: both “The cobbler” and “The Spongebob movie”, though different as night and day were brilliant. John Debney is one of the most gifted and chameleonic composers; he can score any possible genre you can think of and be great at it. Just look at his latest offerings: a horror, a sports drama, a comedy and a cartoon / family movie. What’s missing? A thriller of course. “Broken horses” is a tale of two brothers, a young musical prodigy who leaves his desolate home town and another one who remains there and is turned into a soulless killer by a drug gang’s ruthless boss. The first brother returns and is overridden with guilt for having abandoned the other one.

Still even after I’ve listened to hundreds of scores I frown a little bit when I see a drama / thriller score with an average of less than 2 minutes per cue. But it’s Debney so I’m confident. And yes the somber cello opening of the “Main theme” can only silence all my doubts. These early strings already add to the weight of the score and represent the pillars on which the music will stand. This is the kind of warm opening that makes me want to hear the rest of the story. Even if you don’t read anything about the movie you know the story will be harrowing because the strings turn from warm to threatening before this cue ends.

John Debney’s music is warm in its drama and this makes it more intimate and easier to connect to. The cues hide something and you need to listen to them carefully in order to make up your mind about what’s going on. “The killing” and “The funeral” go from dark to even darker and I don’t think the composer can keep this rate of descent because it would be too much. I can only embrace this darkness because the music makes me feel like I am part of the story. It takes some time to connect to some scores but this one just makes me want to put my hand over its shoulder and comfort it in times of need. So here I am again almost forced to say that this is John Debney like I’ve very rarely heard him before. Is this the guy who just wrote “The Cobbler”? These tense and chilling melodies come from the same heart as those ones? Yep, talk about versatility…. Can you stay in your chair and without blinking when you listen to “Tense standoff?”. I felt the need to gasp for air and drink a glass of water after that one.

Sadness is so beautiful when heard through the gentle brush of John Debney… “Love theme” and “Brothers” would be absolutely crushing otherwise but they make complete sense in the context of this score. The music is minimalistic but so poignant, as if the thinnest and sharpest of needless would slowly make its way through our skins and into our hearts. Did you hear that sample from “Twinkle twinkle little star” in “The memory” or “The last stand”? A little distorted and way creepier than what I sing to my little girl, but it was there …

As the score progresses it becomes more and more claustrophobic and more and more hopeless, as if the thin veil we could only sense in the beginning becomes tighter and tighter.               When the villain is introduced in “Garza appears” I know all I need to know about him from those 2 minutes. “Dead zone” almost becomes the harbinger of a desolate apocalypse. I almost expect to see the original Terminator appear in the story. And yes, John Debney had some even darker places he could take his music to.

“Broken horses” moves with the calculated speed of a spider weaving its inevitable web around the listener. The music evokes that despair of not being able to move and the knowledge of not being able to escape. You can even hear the hiss of the spider’s legs against each other. The moments of hope are rare and gorgeous (“Victoria rides” is one of them) but the web around you is tight and it swallows you whole.

With this exceptional and haunting score, John Debney is the composer of 2015 so far for me. “Broken horses” left me speechless. It uses so little to say so much and it succeeds marvelously in creating an uncomfortable and unbearably tense atmosphere the director must be really proud of (“Buddy goes nuts” might be the creepiest and most tense cue I’ve heard in months). It’s a hat trick for John Debney and he should just keep the scores coming, because he’s in a state of grace.

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 44 / 63

Album excellence: 71%


Main Theme

The Killing

The Funeral

Coming Home

Love Theme

The Homestead


The Memory

Dead Zone


Victoria Rides

Troubled Children

Blood Moon

The Last Stand

Buddy Goes Nuts

Stare Down

Victoria’s Theme

Tell Me Everything

Fateful Decisions

The Waiting

The Escape


Theme From: Broken Horses


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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