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Soundtrack review: Merchants of doubt (Marc Adler – 2015)

Documentary Film scores

Soundtrack review: Merchants of doubt (Marc Adler – 2015)


„Merchants of doubt” is a movie based on a book called….” Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming”. It’s a nonfiction about how the controversies surrounding global warming are kept alive scientists who spread doubt and contradict theories. There are scientists whose only purpose is to challenge the scientific consensus on many contemporary issues.

Marc Adler’s score starts intriguing and quirky, as I would expect for a subject like this. “Smoking” is a retro jazz cue which is fun and brings a shot of nostalgia. I will have to be careful with this score because it’s only made of moments. There are 32 cues for 44 minutes so not much room for development or themes. It’s usually hard for me to connect with scores divided like this but there’ve been some exceptions.

“Playbook” is the first surprise of this score. It’s suspenseful and exciting. Sounds like it could fit in a spy movie. Same with “Flame retardants”, it intrigues me. The composer and the director of the movie have been working together for 20 years and know each other well. The score was written before the movie was done, based on conversations the two of them had. The general idea was that since the subject of the movie is so dire they shouldn’t add to the weight of the experience with the music. I get that when listening to the score.

So we get cues like “Third parties”, a jazzy lush piece that sounds like it should be played at the entrance of a cocktail party. I am enjoying the light and unpretentious moments. Scores like this one are tricky to do because there’s always the danger that without the balancing effect of the movie they might become too light and just fly away from the listener. It’s not the case here. The music is rich enough that it keeps me interested on its own. “Industry shills” reminds me of the jazz pieces from Twin Peaks.

There are of course some down moments like “NASA and the greenhouse effect” when the music might lose me but as every other cue on “Merchants of doubt” it’s short and I can always wait for the next one. Marc Adler clearly experimented with different instruments and styles and a piece like “Denier Ideology” brings me joy. “The skeptic” has those sound effects common in 50s flying saucer movies and it must be a satire.

“Merchants of doubt” knows what it wants and achieves it. This will not be a memorable score and you won’t be humming it or telling your friends about it. What you will do is really enjoy it in the context of the movie or play it for something very relaxing when you are doing something at home. You could think of it as samples from some more extended themes that might have been. The pieces are intriguing enough and the music is quite enjoyable.

Cue rating: 66 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 0 / 42

Album excellence: 0%



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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