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Soundtrack review: Sicario (Johann Johannsson – 2015)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Sicario (Johann Johannsson – 2015)


Johann Johannsson almost won the Academy Award last year for “The theory of everything”. The score was strange but interesting. Most of his scores are like this, which is why whenever a new one comes along I am curious and intrigued, even if I know I might run into something I might not be able to connect with. “Sicario” (means hit man in Mexico) is a story about the never ending war on drug. The cast is just stellar with Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro and the story centers on the female lead and how this journey will affect her. There is a certain sound I have in mind for a score like this…

The opening cue “Armoured vehicle” gets my attention with its pulsating and dangerous rhythm. I imagine a lot of film music fans frowning while listening to “The beast” for example. Hey, the composer did warn you with the title… this cue makes me feel as if I was hiding from huge metal creatures that hum and whirr in the background as they get closer or pass me by and I am actually worried. My heart is beating fast. This is the purpose of film music, or even of music in general: to affect the listener, to make him or her feel something. Well I feel. I like weird and experimental music and this is what I’m getting here.

There is a constant heart beat in the background that makes the music feel even more visceral and relentless. So far I feel as if I am listening to “Mad Max: Fury road” turned inside out or as heard from the inside of the characters there: not as loud, but just as intense and insane. “Sicario” shrinks me to the size of an ant and places me right near the heart of someone running for his or her life. I cannot help in any way; I can just join the run and hope we make it.

But what would a good film score be without surprises like the Cello in “Desert music”? Johansson seals the deal with this theme. I’ll take Cello anytime, anywhere, it’s like desert for me, and not the desert the composer is talking about in the cue title. It’s a rare oasis in the desolate world of “Sicario” so the effect is even stronger.

The scores moves into weird experimental territory for real then. Seems we were just warming up because now strings are being abused and torn apart while that giant heart keeps on beating at an addictive pace. And I still enjoy it. Still, approach this one with caution because “Sicario” is not for everyone. Johannsson is not for everyone. This is one of the stranger and more unintelligible scores you will hear this year but it’s also one of the most interesting. It’s visceral. It breathes, it lives. At least sample a couple of cues, you might just be intrigued enough to stay.

Cue rating: 89 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 40 / 54

Album excellence: 74%


  1. Armoured Vehicle
  2. The Beast
  3. The Border
  4. Drywall
  5. Desert Music
  6. Convoy
  7. Reflection
  8. Melancholia
  9. Tunnel Music
  10. Soccer Game
  11. Alejandro’s Song



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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