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Soundtrack review: Live by night (Harry Gregson Williams – 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Live by night (Harry Gregson Williams – 2016)


“Live by Night” is a 2016 American crime film written, directed and co-produced by Ben Affleck, based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. The film stars Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana and Chris Cooper. Set in the 1920s and 1930s, the story follows Joe Coughlin, the prodigal son of a Boston police captain. After moving to Ybor City, Tampa, Florida, he becomes a bootlegger and a rum-runner and, later, a notorious gangster. I have high hopes from this one since I usually love Ben Affleck’s work. After the break with “Argo”, he asked Harry Gregson Williams once again to write the score.

Lately, with the exception of “The martian”, HGW has been stuck in generic thriller and with his scores for Tony Scott movies or “The Equalizer” and I am looking for something more exciting for him. A story set in the 20s and Boston could suggest to the composer to use some Irish inserts to help anchor the music better in the story. The fiddle shows up for the first time in “Albert’s girl” and transports me to a dreamy and melancholic land. It’s a rare feature of this score as I get that feeling back only once more, in “One day”.

It’s only an exception though as the score dives back into quiet background land. The only rays of light for me are the warm emotional moments like “Graciela” for example. It’s an insert that’s less than a minute long but it makes sense for me, it’s the echo of a very nice feeling. The suspenseful parts though are not for me; it’s film music I’ve heard countless times before in thrillers and doesn’t do anything for me.

“Live by night” works when the composer makes his music louder or more emotional. I enjoy those moments; I enjoy the elegiac female vocalizations which are a nice break from the by the numbers score and reminds me why I used to love Harry Gregson Williams’ music so much. Same with the louder and more alert moments like “Uncovering the clan” and “Live like kings”. I am happy to hear a cue like “The getaway” because it’s more exciting than the usual thriller music Harry has written in the past few years.

“Live by night” is an uneven score that doesn’t break Harry Gregson Williams’ recent pattern. It does bring a bit more emotion and I found moments to connect with but overall there isn’t a lot to remember from this album. What did you think of it?

Cue rating: 77 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 7 / 45

Album excellence: 16%


Albert’s girl


One day

Dion takes over


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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