Film scores

Soundtrack review: Spotlight (Howard Shore – 2015)

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“Spotlight” is a 2015 American drama film directed by Thomas McCarthy and written by McCarthy and Josh Singer. It is about The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative unit in the United States. The film depicts the team methodically uncovering a pattern of sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests in Massachusetts and an ongoing cover-up by the Boston Archdiocese. It is based on a series of stories by the real Spotlight Team that earned The Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The film stars Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, and Billy Crudup. Amazing cast for this one and a composer to match, Howard Shore.

I’ve recently reviewed Brian Tyler’s take on investigative journalism, “Truth” and I’ll say what I said then… this is a special genre that needs a special kind of care and restrain from the composer. The story is more important than the music and the score needs to respect and give space to the story to develop. In this case the alert piano motifs gently accompany the investigation. There’s a seed of a theme as the first two cues sound quite similar. But then comes a gem entitles, you’ve guessed it, “Investigative journalism” which makes me yearn for a piano concert.

Scores like this one are never meant to be great and memorable, at least in my views. As much as I need a great standalone listening experience, I recognize the need for subdued and tense music like this, for a score that doesn’t overstep the boundaries imposed by story and composer. The score passes without making me feel much; I can do my own work and go about whatever I was focused on without minding this score and it will still be there when I decide to pay attention to it again. There are a few lonely moments when the piano presses a special chord inside me, moments like “The children” which is my favorite cue from “Spotlight”.

There’s not much Shore in the music. It seems whoever tackles a movie about investigative journalism needs to go down the same road where identities are lost and the cues fade into each other. This will please whoever needs a good background vibe for whatever research he or she is doing. I would give it extra points so for the lovely use of the piano instead of electronics.

Cue rating: 85 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 5 / 31

Album excellence: 17%

Highlights:

The Children

The Globe Newsroom

Courthouse

The Story Breaks

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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