documentary

Soundtrack review: Only the dead see the end of the war (Michael Yezerski – 2016)

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“Only the Dead see the end of the war” is an HBO documentary and a war story unlike any ever seen. A story of what happens when one ordinary man, it’s Time magazine war correspondent Michael Ware’s searing account of witnessing the birth of ISIS, and one of the most shocking war documentaries to come out of Iraq.  Ware arrived in Baghdad in 2003 as a novice reporter on a three-week assignment to cover the invasion of Iraq. He left seven years later, having gained unprecedented access to the Iraqi insurgency and American troops, as well as a myriad of demons – the after-effects of witnessing seemingly endless, horrific violence. The score was written by Michael Yezerski.

Now a story like this presented with such intensity and darkness raises my expectations for the score. Even if I’ve often said that a documentary score needs to stay out of the way and leave the focus to the story, the message of this particular one would also need help from the music to get through. I will watch the movie to get a better idea of this. The music as I hear it standalone gives me a different impression. The music doesn’t focus on conclusions or drama but dives right into the tension that drives the lives of the ones involved. I listen to this score and I hear investigative music, be it from the journalist or from the Iraqi insurgents themselves. The first few cues are tense and quiet and make me think of a dark thriller rather than a documentary.

The score sounds as if it was written from ground level rather than from a broad perspective. I feel as if I’m moving side by side with the soldiers from either side, living beside them, with them, being part of whatever they are doing. The music is sometimes cold, other times pulsating like in the gripping “Haifa St”. I love its suffocating pace and relentless tempo. The composer gives me time to breath then with the emotional “The dark idea of him”. This cue includes one of the few melodic moments of the score.

“Only the dead see the end of the war” does a great job of setting up an edgy and alert atmosphere. It got my blood flowing and it kept me on my toes for its duration. It reminded me a bit of John Powell’s “Bourne” scores with the way it was written so if you enjoyed those you’ll surely like this one. Even if the action pieces worked, I think I would have liked a bit more drama in this one, since my favorite cue is the title theme at the end.

Cue rating: 81 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 12 / 37

Album excellence: 34%

Highlights:

07 Haifa St

10 Fallujah’s That Way Y’all

20 Only The Dead See The End Of War

 

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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