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Soundtrack review: Paycheck (John Powell – 2004)

Composer of the month John Powell month

Soundtrack review: Paycheck (John Powell – 2004)


I remember the movie “Paycheck” very well. It was one of those smart Sci-fi stories adapted from the works of Phillip K. Dick and I went to see it in the cinema as soon as it came out. I don’t remember much of the score though. This review is part of “John Powell month”. Now I’ve explored all of Powell’s action / thriller scores and quite a few of them came up short for me. I couldn’t connect with them and I felt they were a little too generic. I also found a few brilliant gems. Let’s see where “Paycheck” ends up.

The “Main titles” are about as generic as they come unfortunately. “20 items” doesn’t get better. It sounds like the light instrumental music you could hear at an event when people arrive, before the actual thing starts. Some joyful string sounds and nothing more, no heart, no feeling.

The score seems to settle in this zone. I am getting impatient because I cannot connect to the music. It’s action alright but way too light for a standalone listen. I remember how the movie moved and I imagine the music served as just an echo intended to keep the viewer focused on what was going on on screen. Even when the tone slightly changes, like in “Mirror message” the music doesn’t get better. It just feels like sound effects pasted together into not very coherent cues.

“Imposter” finally gives signs of digging a little deeper. It gets my attention with some soft piano notes which announce nothing good and with a creepy atmosphere. This piece is an improvement over what I heard so far in “Paycheck”. The feeling of frustration returns with “Hog chase part 1”. It doesn’t sound like the music is taking itself very seriously. I know the story is full of illusion and deception so the music might want to reflect that but I jut can’t connect with it. I get the same sensation I got when listening to Brian Tyler’s “Now you see me”. A lot of people loved that score but for me it was too thin and I don’t remember anything from it.

“Hog chase part 2” is a little better because it shows seeds of what is going to become part of “Hancock”, one of the John Powell scores I really like. This kind of music worked very well there but the context was different. Still this track is the best I’ve heard on this score so far. The celebration sound is at least fun and the small fanfare inserts work. “I don’t remember” keeps some sort of momentum with an interesting and reflective piano motif. The music is suddenly serious and has some meaning. “Tomorrow’s headlines” makes it three enjoyable tracks in a row. I seem to be happy when the mood gets a little quieter.

I sigh and prepare for two cues making for 13 minutes in total. Maybe they will provide some excellence. The first one is “Future tense” and I am happy when it becomes past tense. “Fait accompli” tries to muster some suspense and brings shadows of an orchestral among all the electronic effects.

Just like “The italian job” or “Fair game”, “Paycheck” ends up as a generic and uniteresting thriller score for me. I am puzzled because I know how great John Powell can be when he is good. At least the final cue “Rachel’s party” plays very well with the strings and at least saves the final impression.

Cue rating: 71 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 0 / 47

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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