perfect score

Soundtrack review: Nocturnal animals (Abel Korzeniowski – 2016)


“‘Nocturnal Animals” is a 2016 American psychological thriller film written, co-produced, and directed by Tom Ford, based on the 1993 novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright. The film stars an ensemble cast featuring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Sheen. An art gallery owner (Amy Adams) is haunted by her ex-husband’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale. Abel Korzeniowski wrote the score and I instantly remember how beautiful and emotional his score for the other Tom Ford movie “A single man” was. “And just like that” is still among my favorite cues ever.

With this in mind I walk into this time with a tingle of excitement in my stomach as if I am entering a magic woods where a fantastically beautiful creature lives, a creature that I expect to come any minute from beyond a tree. And indeed the orchestral splendour overwhelms me from the first seconds of “Nocturnal animals”; a deep and complex cue like “Wayward sisters” with its haunting string sections and soaring beauty leaves me breathless. Abel Korzeniowski is the film music equivalent of Storm from the “X-men” universe: he can conjure a whirlwind of emotions inside me that is unmatched.

The opening theme returns with the same beautiful sadness in “Restless”. I have listened to a lot of film scores written by Polish composers over the year and the orchestral shadow in this cue, the bleak mood that is still hauntingly beautiful is present in a lot of works by Zbigniew Preisnier for example. I am familiar with his dark atmosphere and I embrace it.

“A solitary woman” takes me right back to “A single man” with the way the piano blends with the strings. For me piano should not miss from an orchestral score because it’s the instrument that speaks the most to me. This cue is constructed with a frantic pace reminiscent of the 70s and 80s police scores by Morricone. There’s a trembling string motif in the middle of this cue (the same on that starts the opening theme) that mimics  a heart skipping a beat or someone stopping because he or she saw something that took his or her breath away. That short motif where the violin or cellar strings are barely caressed with short movements are the equivalent for me of looking into the eyes of the woman I love and knowing that I could never look away.

Abel expands that motif with a shorter and even more repetitive addition to show the suspense in “Off the road”; this cue is so simple and yet so meaningful and keeps me on my toes. The composer keeps the music on a leash and I can hear it try to break away and bite and devour but it remains contained within the boundaries of those two short and repetitive motifs.  Very often when I listen to a Korzeniowski score I realise how much I enjoy a purely orchestral composition, minimalistic in a way because it doesn’t use a lot of instruments, but very rich in emotion. I don’t need more, I don’t need epic when I listen to his music.

The mood changes again for “The field” which is the kind of piece that could melt even the coldest heart; the beautiful sadness of a solo violin is unmatched. As the cues before this one also feels left with an open ending; this score is made of pieces that don’t end, that are not complete themes but that leave space for me as a listener to add my own emotions and find an empty space inside me to fill with them.

“Nocturnal animals” is another exceptional score from a composer who has a unique way of writing scores; no matter if the movie is high profile or indie, if it’s a Polish stage play or a highly rated TV show he always expresses what he wants to tell us by stripping the emotion in his music to the bare and most honest. Whether it’s a quiet piano delight or a haunting violin piece his musical gifts always find me with my defences down. “Nocturnal animals” is one of this year’s most beautiful scores and you absolutely should not miss it.

Cue rating: 100 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 33 / 33
Album excellence: 100%
Wayward Sisters
A Solitary Woman
Off the Road
The Field
City Lights
Table for Two
The Field (Alt. Version)

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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  • I agree. His work only enhanced Ford’s film like Mr. Barbieri did with Last Tango In Paris
    Mr. Korzeniowski has another feather in his cap. Bravo.