Film scores

Soundtrack review: Mr. Holmes (Carter Burwell – 2015)

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“Mr. Holmes” is a new twist on the world’s most famous detective. 1947, an aging Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) returns from a journey to Japan, where, in search of a rare plant with powerful restorative qualities, he has witnessed the devastation of nuclear warfare. Now, in his remote seaside farmhouse, Holmes faces the end of his days tending to his bees, with only the company of his housekeeper and her young son, Roger. The powers of his mind are slowly diminishing as he tries to keep a grip on reality and his memories. Cartel Burwell wrote the score and he is one of the composers I’ve been following for the longest time. His scores for all the Coen brother movies (and especially his “Fargo” theme) have been challenging and enjoyable. Plus, he loves the strings and so do I.

Having followed this composer for such a long time means I can almost instantly connect with his music and recognize his trademark quirky string play that always hides something. His music is often intriguing and has a sense of inevitable doom to it. Usually it was related to murders and plotting but the irreversible loss of a mind as brilliant as that of Sherlock Holmes can be interpreted just as drastic. The main theme for our character is a tango of emotions and regret, but always with an ironic smile in the corner of its mouth.

This score is not for the action or pace lovers. This is a reflective score which moves at a very slow pace, mirroring the difficulties the main character might have in gripping reality. The elegant and very quiet string inserts in a cue like “The glass armonica” echo the stillness of old age and the sensation of time melting. I listen to this cue and I think of Dali’s painting with the melting clock. And the kicker is I can relate to this music. I understand the state of mind and I can connect with it.

Other times the music is a little too quiet and I am waiting for it to tell me more. I still enjoy it but I am having a harder time catching those cues and hearing their story. Cartel Burwell also offers surprises like “Hiroshima station” which goes straight into my box of favorite Japanese inspired cues. This piece captures the essence of that country with the divine woodwind instrument.

If you enjoy minimalistic and reflective scores with an extra touch of elegance and irony and an occasional gust of wind from Japan you will feel “Mr. Holmes”. I enjoyed it a lot because its mood suits me very well. If I were to recommend a cue that best represents this score both as music and as the most persistent feeling it would be “An incomprehensible emptiness”.

Cue rating: 90 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 20 / 39

Album excellence: 51%

Highlights:

Mr. Holmes

The Glass Armonica

Hiroshima Station

I Never Knew Your Father

Investigating Mr. Holmes

An Incomprehensible Emptiness

The Other Side Of The Wall

 

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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