Film scores

Soundtrack review: Woodlawn (Paul Mills – 2015)

“Woodland” is one of the most beautiful and meaningful sports drama scores I’ve heard in a long time and it would be a true shame to miss it

“Woodlawn” is a 2015 American Christian sports drama film directed by The Erwin Brothers, Andrew and Jon Erwin. The film is based on the true story of Tony Nathan. After a government-mandate, Tony Nathan, a gifted high school football player, and other black students desegregate Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama in 1973. As cross burnings and riots erupt in the city, Tandy Gerelds, the Woodlawn Colonels football coach, struggles to ease racial tensions between his players. It’s only when Gerelds allows Hank, an outsider, to speak to his team that real change begins. Hank, who has been radically affected by the message of hope and love he experienced at a Christian revival meeting, tells the players a “better way” is possible through following Jesus. Paul Mils wrote the score and it’s a hefty 93 minutes long composition which is a good thing because I love sports dramas and their music.

And if the 9 minute long superb first cue “Opening and the run” is any indication I am in for a gorgeous score. This cue is like a beautiful sunrise witnessed on the beach, from which I don’t miss a single second. I get the feeling of awakening and defrosting from this track which finds the right balance between atmospheric and inspirational. It doesn’t come down hard so the score doesn’t risk running out of steam early. I think if you sample just this suite like theme you will stay for the rest of the score.

From this opening a string ostinato breaks away as a theme and makes the score flow naturally into the next cue. The balance between quiet and inspirational that I noticed in the beginning continues to play nicely as the score progresses. The music makes me feel and believe what it’s telling me. I love the quiet anthem like mood of a cue like “Team revival”. I feel the comeback, I feel the confidence rising and I am rooting for them without even knowing them. The composer knows how to nurture these feelings with beautiful and natural build ups inside his cues. I also like little surprises like the end of “Tony’s in” when it feels like “Man of steel” himself came in and hijacked the main character’s mind and body.

I like the use of the piano in this score; it punctuates the more emotional moments quietly but poignantly. Even if the story contains violence and drama the music is never aggressive. The composer makes his point with elegance and love as if he was mirroring the beliefs of the players from that team. The epic bursts are few and scattered but so effective in the score and they almost always remind me of Hans Zimmer’s “Man of steel”.

The sunrise analogy I used in the beginning works for the entire score. The mood is dark and then suddenly it wakes up and light takes over with the sound of guitars and percussion. The darkness in the music is comfortable though and is needed to better appreciate the inspirational moments. “Woodland” is one of the most beautiful and meaningful sports drama scores I’ve heard in a long time and it would be a true shame to miss it. Can’t wait to see the movie as well.

Cue rating: 95 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 74 / 93

Album excellence: 80%

Highlights:

Opening and the Run

Fight at Practice

Unrest

Team Revival

Ensley VS Woodlawn

Ensley Game Start

Tony’s In

God is Testing Us

I Think You’re a Superstar

I Hate to Lose / Hayes Game

Johnnie and Tony

Looking In

On This Day

Outsider

I Believe

Banks Game One

You Are

Two Teams Meet

You Ain’t

Battlefield

That’s the Woman I Love

Prayer Meeting and Rally

Tony and His Dad Talk

Kingdom Come

Woodlawn VS Banks

Your Time / Kingdom Come Reprise / Undeniably Spiritual

End Credits

 

 

 

 

 

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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