Film scores

Soundtrack review: Concussion (James Newton Howard – 2015)

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“Concussion” is a 2015 American biographical sports thriller and medical drama film starring Will Smith portraying Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who fought against efforts by National Football League to suppress his research on the brain damage suffered by professional football players. The film was directed and written by Peter Landesman, based on the 2009 GQ exposé Game Brain by Jeanne Marie Laskas. The film also stars Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Albert Brooks. I’m intrigued about the topic and I know how well Will Smith can deliver so I will definitely watch this movie. The score comes from James Newton Howard and, as always it’s one of the most anticipated of the year for me.

I’ve heard all of James Newton Howard’s scores and yet he can still surprise me with a theme like “Concussion”. The opening is as melodic as if it were a period piece and as smooth as if it was the softest cloth. Towards the end it turns darker and morphs into a good old fashioned thriller piece that grips and moves me. I hope this is an indication of how the score will play with me.

After that opening though the score suddenly takes another road, one I am not extremely fond of; the next few cues, safe for a few nice piano motifs, get rather thriller generic and remind me of Harry Gregson Williams’ efforts for the last few Tony Scott movies. A cue like “Webster’s autopsy” actually rubs me the wrong way. I am looking for emotion, for the story to grab me and I can’t find it yet. The action moments are nice and they remind me of “Salt” but they don’t stick.

As I listen to “Bennet and Prema” I manage to put my finger on what I like about this score: it’s the Thomas Newman nostalgia vibe it gets every now and then. This particular cue charms me in such a way that it brings inside me my favorite past summers with their peace, quiet and day dreaming. In just 160 seconds James Newton Howard swings his magic wand and creates a cue that will stand proud in my best of the year list. This piece is all heart and innocence. I don’t care about the rest of the score. It’s what happened with “The tourist”: the score was forgettable but it brought “Bedroom dreams” which is still one of my favorite JNH themes.

I’m not sold on the electronic inserts in a JNH score. My expectations are always very high and I look for beauty and emotion which are very scarce in “Concussion”. There’s a lot of generic dark thriller action I’ve heard countless times before. The James Newton Howard stamp is lacking for me with the exception of the opening theme and that one, magical cue hidden in the middle of the score. Of course this being JNH I will give this score a couple of more listens.

Cue rating: 81 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 14 / 61

Album excellence: 22%

Highlights:

Concussion

Bennet and Prema

I Am Offended

Bennet’s Decision

 

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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