Film scores

Soundtrack review: Hacksaw ridge (Rupert Gregson Williams – 2016)

hacksaw-ridge

“Hacksaw Ridge” is a 2016 World War II biographical film directed by Mel Gibson, written by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan and stars Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Corr, Teresa Palmer, Richard Pyros and Rachel Griffiths. The film is based on the true story of US Army medic Desmond T. Doss. Doss was a Christian (Seventh-day Adventist) conscientious objector who refused to bear arms, yet was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman for single-handedly saving the lives of over 75 of his comrades while under constant enemy fire during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. The score was written by Rupert Gregson-Williams.

Normally James Horner would have scored this but since he’s no longer with us the surprise choice was the rising star of the younger Gregson Williams brother, Rupert, who until this year had mostly done music for Adam Sandler movies. Even if I suffer from WWII overkill from the stories point of view I’m always up for an epic and emotional war score. I know Rupert can do emotional because even after 10 years I’m still listening to his cue “Hospital escape” from the “Click” score.

“Hacksaw ridge” starts slowly and mournfully with “Okinawa battlefield” and I know it’s not about a fight but most likely about the terrible aftermath. I listen to these quiet and elegiac musings and imagine a field of ghost souls whose suffering has ended. The emotion isn’t extremely deep in this one and the meaningful lightness makes me think of how Thomas Newman writes music. RGW employs the same techniques here. When a flute section gently breezes in “A calling” I can understand how the character feels, I can understand how knowing what you are here for takes away from the heaviness of any decision. The sunny and delightful opening third of the score makes me think of a summer at the countryside. The shadows from cues like “Throw hell at him” or “Dorothy pleads” are part of the same scenery.

This first half of the score I know; I am familiar and comfortable with the beautiful music but this is a Mel Gibson war epic and I am waiting for that cue or section that will create an earthquake inside me. I am waiting for the drama and emotions to change the tone of the score and as soon as the title cue begins I get that. The distant percussion, dark and menacing immediately makes me think of a Japanese attack coming closer and closer. The composer presents this threat very cleverly: there’s no melody, just different and tense danger motifs mostly based on thundering percussion. Now this is truly exciting music; the gripping “Japanese retake the ridge” sends chills down my spine and drives my pulse suffocatingly high. I almost expect Godzilla to show up and seal the deal.

From that point on the score just soars and pushes all my right buttons; the emotional beginning and end of “I can’t hear you” make me wish the composer could spinoff motifs from his own cues into full fledged themes I would love to explore. “One man at a time” is the montage cue I had no idea I needed so much; I can’t wait to see the scene for which it was written. I love montage cues and this one is spot on with the build up and determination; it’s that moment when the good guys win against the odds, it’s the inspiration I need to go on with my day and the conscience that everything will be fine despite all the hardship. This is a cue that I will keep close for moments when I need to get my faith back. “Praying” is as emotional moment as this score can offer and makes me a believer in the music of RGW.

“Hacksaw ridge” is a beautiful and inspirational score; it’s not war epic level intense but for me it’s right up there with the best sports drama scores, that’s the level of emotion it made me feel and I don’t need more because I can relate much more to sports dramas. And since the main character became a hero by not using weapons in a war I think the composer did exactly what the story and character asked for; no need for the desperation of killing or the intense release of revenge. Rupert Gregson Williams deserves to get more big projects like this one.

Cue rating: 93 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 40 / 53
Album excellence: 75%
Highlights:
Okinawa Battlefield
A Calling
Hacksaw Ridge
Japanese Retake The Ridge
I Can’t Hear You
One Man At A Time
Rescue Continues
A Miraculous Return
Praying
Historical Footage

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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