Film scores

Soundtrack review: Good kill (Christophe Beck – 2015)

goodkill

“Good kill” is a movie made to compete at the Venice film festival. It stars Ethan Hawke and it’s the story of a drone pilot who despite never having been on a battlefield suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome after he remotely bombs some terrorist cells in the Middle East. He starts questioning the ethics of what he does. I was always intrigued how in the movies or TV shows whoever orders a drone strike seems to not care about the consequences since he’s just pushing a button. This movie finally seems to try and look from the other side. Christophe Beck is a master of disguise and every score by him is a surprise. This year he already had a great one, “Red army”.

The opening of “Good kill” sets the tone for the entire score. It’s a blend of oriental mystery and frantic percussion that feels at times like a needle through your brain. It plays on the almost unbearable tension of launching a missile and not knowing its full effects. “Missiles away” is written as if from the perspective of the missile itself. “So beautifully clear” is the first surprise of this score because, yes, of how beautiful and melancholic it is. It’s a moment of clarity in the mess this job must mean for our protagonist.

The sound of this score makes me think of Marco Beltrami’s “The hurt locker”. It has the same jumpy feeling, always on alert, sharp and neurotic. It doesn’t have the insane pulse of that particular score because Christophe Beck tones it down at times. He explores the suspense of the action in the first part of this score. I am still waiting for the doubts, the stress, and the regrets. “We all pulled the trigger” is where I first hear them. There’s remorse and sorrow in this minimalistic piece.

“Double tap” is driven by a simple pulsating rhythm which shrouds the middle part where the music just fades into atmospheric for a little bit. That atmospheric part returns in the beautiful “Overwatch”. As this score progresses I get the feeling I am listening to a man’s lonely and quiet journey through a maze of thoughts he doesn’t share with anyone. The music feels personal and hidden. It’s not expansive, it’s not loud and it sometimes breaks into many little pieces before it dissolves.

The construction of some cues is intriguing. “Heaven on Earth” for example is a melancholic theme set on the background of some nervous strings which can’t make up their minds to say what’s bothering them. This nervous string motif is in the fabric of Christophe Beck’s composition and cleverly leaves and echo and a question every time it’s heard. It also works as a permanent threat, something that sticks in the back of your head and doesn’t let you relax completely. It might not always be clear or obvious, but you always know it’s there.

The main character of the movie never goes to war. This is his story, his perspective so the music doesn’t need to go to war either. It stays there with our hero, in a back room, far away from the consequences of its actions. The composer had a very small area in which to experiment and he made the best of it. Beck took a minimalistic approach which is rarely melodic and always ready to run away. I feel as if “Good kill” could end at any time and the effect would be the same. Just like those terrorist cells our hero destroys, the music works in easily separable modules. Do I enjoy listening to it? Yes I do because it’s interesting. Add to this moody ambient pieces like “led” or “Demoted” or Five miles away” and this score ends on the plus side. It has a clear idea of what it wants to communicate and it probably serves the story very well. It also makes generic electronic scores feel even more generic and boring and I might be a little harsher on scores like those after I heard this one.

I will listen to “Good kill” again because it intrigued me. This is the most dominant feeling I am left with once the score is over.

Cue rating: 88 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 16 / 40

Album excellence: 39%

Highlights:

So beautifully clear

Overwatch

Yemen

Led

Lost the link

Demoted

Five miles away

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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