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Soundtrack review: Hell or high water (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – 2016)

perfect scores

Soundtrack review: Hell or high water (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – 2016)


“Hell or High Water” is a 2016 American heist crime film directed by David Mackenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan, whose script was the winner of the 2012 Black List. The film follows two brothers who plan a bank robbery to save their family farm and stars Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges. I’ve recently seen Pine and Foster together in the wonderful “The finest hours”. This is a Western and to my immense joy the music is written by my favorite pair of composers for this genre, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. For me ever since their first score more than 10 years ago they have managed to create a unique sound for movies that take place in vast and empty landscapes and every score they put out ends up being among my favorites. I love the certainty I get before pressing play on one of their compositions, the certainty that I am going to love this poignant and reflective score. I am biased when it comes to Nick Cave and Warren Ellis but they have earned it.

Hello, old friend with soft and long string motifs and a quiet and serious piano…hello heavy reflection, hello vast space and retrained emotion… I am just hooked and addicted to how this pair of composers prolong every sound, every motif sounds eternal and everlasting. I adore the strings in a cue like “Mama’s room”, they almost bring tears to my eyes. The music is so beautiful and goes straight to my heart. Sadness never leaves this score but it’s a comfortable sadness, one I can relate to. The music is dark and almost hopeless but it’s a familiar place where I feel safe. I can almost see Nick Cave’s smile less face which looks as if it’s chiseled in the hardest stone and the image matches the music…a tough exterior with the warmest of hearts. Over and over again he and his musical partner Warren Ellis add the color to a barren landscape, that yellow dust that for some is gold.

It’s not all emotion; the action moments of the score get louder while keeping the same abrasive yet pleasant overall sound. The music is not obtrusive and yet I cannot separate it from whatever thoughts I’m having while listening to it. It’s discrete without fading in the background; it’s that silent companion that says a whole lot without using words.

“Lord of the plains” is a quintessential Cave / Ellis cue for me. It is heavy without adding burden to the listener and it’s a perfect balance of rage and restrained emotion. The humming that fades in the instrumental background like an illusion in the desert, the piercing strings, everything works. “Casino” is my favorite piece from “Hell or high water” because it evokes the strongest, purest and most beautiful emotions to me.

Once again Nick Cave and Warren Ellis deliver what for me is a perfect score. I will never have enough of their lonely and unique sound.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 21 / 21

Album excellence: 100%


Comancheria (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis)

Mama’s Room (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis)

Texas Midlands (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis)

Robbery (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis)

Mountain Lion Mean (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis)

From My Cold Dead Hands (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis)

Lord of the Plains (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis)

Casino (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis)

Comancheria II (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis)

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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