Film scores

Soundtrack review: The numbers station (Paul Leonard-Morgan – 2015)

„The numbers station” is a 2013 thriller starring John Cusack about a disgraced black ops agent who is sent to a remote CIA broadcast station to protect a code operator . The distant station becomes the claustrophobic setting for a race against time in an attempt to stop a deadly plot. Sounds interesting and a fertile ground for a great score. This story and setting has a lot to offer. I was not familiar with composer Paul Lenard Morgan before this.
Numbers, remote location, claustrophobic… with all these premises I already have an idea about how this score should sound, or about how I would like it to sound. The first cue is forgettable but „Bad memories” starts promising. It’s quiet and there’s an echo of strings in the background. This is a cue that promises good things down the road. It’s the start of a story or of a journey to get to know the characters. It’s ambient and tense.
The composer used the gimmick of the movie (untangling of numerical codes) as a base for the music and you can hear that obviously in „Attack”. This is a schizophrenic and pulsating cue that moves at different paces. It could drive you insane if listened at full volume. The pulses intertwine from different sources and instruments and the motion of the music is very interesting. There are times when I want to stop it, other times when it reminds me of my MRI experience and other moments when I want to listen to it even louder. It’s an intriguing piece of music and ultimately I love it.
“Start the count” is where the score gets really claustrophobic. I can feel the walls closing in on me and there’s darkness in the music. Again it’s all pulses and beats but it’s enough. Midway through the pace gets insane for a while. It’s these sudden changes of rhythm and the surprises that make “The numbers station” work. A score like this could very easily get generic and uninteresting but it’s not the case here. You get the fast moving “Assignments” then the sneaky “Consequences”. “Reflections” goes even deeper and quieter. This is pure ambient music and I like it. It’s that electronic moody echo that always gets to me. “They’re looking for this” keeps the sound low and I am beginning to see this score as a sinusoidal graph itself. I wonder if it’s intentional. This cue though is too slow, almost all background noise, and it’s easily forgettable. Maybe it works better in the movie.
Even when they cues are weaker, “The numbers station” still has the isolation feeling working for it. The composer makes it feel real and that claw doesn’t loosen its grip for the entire hour of the score. Yet there is something keeping this score from being great. I listen to “Talk to me” or “Extraction” and oscillate between 4 and 5 stars a few times. Some moments make me feel like yep, love it, I will listen to this again and other moments not so much.
In the end even with all this, “The numbers station” is an interesting score. The atmosphere that Paul Leonard-Morgan creates and the way he crafts it is worth a listen.
Cue rating: 77 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 7 / 59
Album excellence: 12%
Highlights:
Attack
Extraction

 

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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